Airbnb is striving to make its services more accessible

Airbnb started a programme dubbed “Live Anywhere with Airbnb” earlier this summer, inviting people from all walks of life to apply for a year of subsidised living in the company’s apartments. (What a fantasy!) A total of 314,000 would-be nomads applied, with only 12 being accepted. Lindsey Miller-Voss, for example, will be going with her mother, Bev, and her 14-year-old daughter Anna, who uses a wheelchair. Miller-Voss and her family wish to demonstrate to tourists not only the accessibility challenges they confront on the road, but also—and perhaps more crucially, in their opinion—just how much wheelchair users can do while travelling.

“We enjoy being able to share Anna’s travels with people and show them that just because a family has someone in it with a medical diagnosis or a physical need, you can still go out and explore and do all kinds of amazing things,” Miller-Voss adds. “‘We make it work,’ is our family mantra.”

When Anna was 3.5 years old, she was adopted from Russia. She has Osteogenesis Imprefecta, Type III, a hereditary disorder that causes her bones to break readily. Miller-Voss was unfazed by Anna’s position, and she claims she never considered her condition as a handicap as a result of her interactions with other families whose children (a little older than Anna) faced similar difficulties. “Seeing them live full and bright lives was very inspiring to me,” she adds.

Anna and her family now seek to inspire others by example; Miller-Voss describes Anna’s life as “very great.” She is homeschooled, but rather of depending exclusively on textbooks to educate her, her family places a strong emphasis on experiences. As a result, they spend a lot of time in the Washington, D.C. region visiting museums, watching concerts, taking scientific lessons at sites like the National Zoo and the National Aquarium, and participating in other types of interactive experiences.

As a result, Anna’s school will be very similar during her year with Airbnb, with the exception that the “classrooms” will change with each new location. The family is planning a cross-country excursion, which they are calling a “great American road trip.”

“It’s an incredible opportunity to show other people that you can have a really fantastic life even if you’re in a wheelchair,” Anna explains. “I think a lot of people forget that, especially since we don’t see many individuals in wheelchairs living cool lives in movies, books, television shows, or anything like that. It’s critical to shift perceptions on this.”

Of course, there will be obstacles, and the family hopes to address some of them along the way. For starters, accessible lodging is difficult to come by. “It’s always a difficulty,” Miller-Voss adds, “but to be honest, our home is multi-story, has stairs, and isn’t wheelchair accessible, so it’s natural that not every home out there is accessible.” Nonetheless, Airbnb is aiming to learn from Anna’s experiences in order to make its platform—and the properties it hosts—more wheelchair-friendly in the future.

Access can be restricted in other areas as well while travelling. Museum exhibits are often difficult to see from a wheelchair because they are designed to be viewed by standing adults. Miller-Voss further claims that, despite the fact that it has never happened to them, airlines frequently wreck wheelchairs in transit. She notes that most full-time wheelchair users do not utilise the foldable chairs allowed in the airline cabin, thus wheelchairs are stored in cargo. Imagine arriving at your location only to discover that your wheelchair, which you rely on to get about, has been broken in transit—this occurs all the time, she says. Since they began reporting results in late 2018, airlines in the United States have lost or damaged over 15,000 wheelchairs (about 29 per day). These chairs aren’t inexpensive to replace, either; Anna’s is a one-of-a-kind creation. “We joke that she can either get a new wheelchair or a car,” Miller-Voss explains.

However, for Anna, one of the most aggravating things of travelling in a wheelchair is how other people treat you. They, in particular, have a habit of pushing your chair without first asking if you require such assistance. This is a complete no-no. “A lot of people just come up to me and push me,” Anna adds. “I realise that they don’t know how to approach someone in a wheelchair.” “However, I believe that if I can educate people realise how to treat someone in a wheelchair with respect, it will make travelling [for wheelchair users] even easier.”

Of course, the epidemic has added to Anna and her family’s difficulties. Anna is at a higher risk of COVID-19 problems as a result of her illness, thus her family followed an extremely stringent quarantine before to immunisation. They were so shut up that Anna barely left the house once a year, and that was to go to the dentist. So it’s understandable that the entire family is looking forward to following up their pandemic quarantine with a year on the road. They have opted to limit their vacation to American destinations mainly owing to the virus, and they are making flexible plans in case outbreaks grow in certain areas.

Anna has been documenting her life on Instagram and through her website, and she plans to continue doing so throughout the family’s journey so that others can follow along. “Through her website, we began writing evaluations of locations we’d been in order to provide accessible knowledge so that families travelling with someone in a wheelchair, crutches, or with mobility constraints can utilise it as a resource,” Miller-Voss explains.

Aside from writing a travel guide for other wheelchair users like herself, Anna has another purpose for her year-long journey: “Hopefully others will see that everyone can travel, regardless of disability,” Anna adds. “It’s not how you get around; it’s what you did, when you did it, and if you enjoyed it.”

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