Is Airbnb Violating the ADA?

by on August 7, 2014

So much of the advocacy rhetoric about the Airbnb legislation focusses on making money that nobody in city government — whether the sponsoring Supervisor or Planning staff or legal counsel — has been willing to admit that Airbnb and many other so-called “sharing economy” companies violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Airbnb, et al. are a “public accommodation, as per the A.D.A. All these so-called “sharing economy” companies should have been fully accessible, in their communications and in provision of services, from the very beginning of their corporate life.

Yet, Airbnb’s website is NOT accessible. One person who is blind uses the “Jaws” screenreader software. That person wanted to list availability of space through Airbnb, but couldn’t.

The disability problems are more than just the inability of some who are blind to get information from or to list share-able housing on the Airbnb website.

The website also doesn’t list whether the listed housing is accessible, or not. Failure to provide such information deters people with disabilities from equally being able to access these home-sharing services, even if websites are finally made accessible.

Airbnb, the sponsoring Supervisor, Planning staff, and legal counsel all act and opine as if they are living in 1989 — in a year prior to passage of the A.D.A.

Somehow, they have both personally and professionally avoided responding to or acknowledging this federal civil rights law, even though it is over 1/4 of a century old.

Its not enough to now say that past neglect is acceptable; that’s hardly a reflection of “San Francisco values.”How would elected officials and Planning staff respond to any legislation that said home-sharing services would only be available to those born in the US or born in SF?

The bias and discrimination in such a scenario is so evident that such hypothetical legislation would be D.O.A. Why, then, is this proposed legislation acceptable?

Have all principles of fairness, inclusiveness, diversity, and equity been abandoned in favor of simply making $$ –no matter what the social cost?

There are other disability-affecting factors that this legislation ignores.

There is no background check on the so-called “guests”.

People with disabilities and seniors need to know they can quickly, easily, and safely exit their building, in case of an emergency. If landlords don’t know about –and don’t have the opportunity to screen –airbnb occupants, then seniors and people with disabilities won’t know that strangers will have keys to the building .

Vulnerable residents such as these two constituencies –along with single parent families and pregnant women — might be subject to “guests” who ignore fire safety rules or even molest / assault vulnerable tenants.

The secrecy this legislation allows is contrary to good public policy.

I would hope that Planning would schedule a hearing on these critical ADA issues.

Bob Planthold

Bob Planthold writes columns on Disability Perspectives and is a longtime activist in San Francisco on senior and disabled issues.

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