Episodes

Right at Home

13 Letters
March 19, 2020

There was once a time when traveling with a disability was a daunting prospect. Srin Madipalli co-founded Accomable to create a database for disabled individuals to find and book the most accessible accommodation for their trips. Airbnb acquired Accomable in 2017, and Srin went on to work as Airbnb's product manager for in-home accessibility while holding accessibility workshops for hosts across the globe. Airbnb has since increased its focus on improving the accessibility of its products and working to address the problem of uninformed hosts. We sat down with Srin to talk about how an accessibility startup gets  acquired, what his dream is at Airbnb and plotting the “accessible super city” of the future.

Sponsors: Deque U

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Episode Transcript

Will Butler:

Hi everyone, Will from 13 Letters here with a quick message. The world is weird right now. I know it’s full of uncertainty, and everything is changing. At 13 Letters though, we’ve decided to continue to run episodes as scheduled. And though some topics we discuss might not perfectly match up with the way everything is changing right now, changing by the day, it is an opportunity to think about where accessibility fits in now and in the future, as we get back to normal and start to rebuild our economy and our society the way we want it. One thing I know for sure is that accessibility is and is going to be as important as ever. Thank you so much for listening, and now the episode.

Will Butler:

All right, let's just do it a couple more times.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Okay.

Will Butler:

Today's episode of 13 Letters... Hey, letter wearers. Hey letterers. Hey, letterheads. Oh, letterheads! Oh. Oh my god! Wait. Is that it?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's it.

Will Butler:

Are you cool with that?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. Yeah. This has got to be it.

Will Butler:

That's got to be it, right?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's it. You figured it out.

Will Butler:

Ha ha! All right. Well I can rest easy tonight.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Instead of me telling someone to relax, I'll just tell them, "Be like Will when he discovered letterheads." Anyway...

Will Butler:

Did I look genuinely happy?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

You looked so happy. Your body language was really expressive. I could make a comic about it.

Will Butler:

Okay. Hey, letterheads. That feels good.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Hey, letterheads.

Will Butler:

Today's episode of 13 Letters is brought to you by Deque.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Deque offers training for every level of expertise, in every area of expertise in digital accessibility.

Will Butler:

If you have a disability, you actually qualify for a scholarship for free access to Deque University's online in-depth digital accessibility curriculum for one full year.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

For a full year?

Will Butler:

Yeah, full year.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's awesome.

Will Butler:

That is awesome. Visit dequeuniversity.com. That's D-E-Q-U-E-university-dot-com to get started. D-E-Q-U-E.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

D-E-Q-U-E-university-dot-com.

Will Butler:

Wait, what were you saying about ARIA?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Oh, so in ARIA, which is this set of patterns for making interactive components on the web that are accessible, there's the ARIA pattern for a tree of nodes that are nested within each other, and there is a pattern for grids, but there isn't a pattern for a diagram where certain nodes link back to other nodes, like these interconnected nodes that have maybe, potentially, infinite loops. And I want to create a diagram of all of the people who are on our podcast and how they are connected, whether they worked at the same company or are involved in the same cross-company or just passion project initiative, and see how they all know each other, because it is, as we were talking about earlier, such a small community still.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Well, and it's interesting-

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Everyone's interconnected.

Will Butler:

Yeah, and they all refer to each other, and they all cite each other as inspiration.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. Yeah.

Will Butler:

Today on the podcast we have Srin Madipalli, and Srin's company, Accomodable, was acquired by Airbnb in order to help Airbnb with not their digital accessibility efforts, but with their in-home accessibility. And you've done a little bit of work with the digital folks at Airbnb, right?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah, we haven't worked directly on any projects together, but we did have a fun coworking day where we just sat around together and worked on our respective accessibility work for our respective companies, and would occasionally just share ideas about best practices. And it was really nice to just-

Will Butler:

Sharing industry trade secrets, I'm sure.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

No trade secrets, just sharing, accessibility is hard sometimes, and these are patterns that work and these are patterns that don't work.

Will Butler:

You guys actually do that?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

It only happened once, but it was awesome, and I think we should do that-

Will Butler:

That's very cool.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I don't know, I think that would be fun. It was during a work day too, so it was just like, "Let's do our work, just be in this community of people," you can ask questions, like how there's a web accessibility Slack that hundreds, if not thousands, of people are in, where they can ask different questions about accessibility of each other. So it was like having that Slack group, just in person.

Will Butler:

Cool.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Oh, well, Srin obviously works in partnership with the good digital folks at Airbnb, but Srin's going to talk to us today about what it's like to be in the homes of strangers, basically, and still have that experience be accessible. So enjoy the interview. And good luck with that diagram, Cordelia.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Thanks.

Will Butler:

So Srin Madipalli, all the way from London, thank you so much for joining us on 13 Letters. We're really excited to have you here today.

Srin Madipalli:

Well, thank you very much for having me on.

Will Butler:

For those that don't know, Srin is currently at Airbnb and has done accessibility work going back to his first company, Accomable, which we want to hear more about how that all got started. But before we really jump in, I think we'd love to just get a little bit of your origin story in here. Where are you from?

Srin Madipalli:

I'm from London, but I've been living in San Francisco up until last week for the last two years, and I came to Airbnb when the company that I founded that you mentioned, called Accomable, was acquired by Airbnb back at the end of 2017. And I moved to Airbnb to get the new in-the-home accessibility team started.

Will Butler:

And it sounds to me like you weren't born in San Francisco, based on your accent?

Srin Madipalli:

No. As you can tell from my accent, I was born and brought up in London.

Will Butler:

In London, in the city proper?

Srin Madipalli:

Yes. In the city... So actually started off from the east end of London, but now I live more centrally.

Will Butler:

Okay. Cordelia, you're on your way to London next week, aren't you?

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

I am. Yeah. I hear it's rainy there.

Srin Madipalli:

It is. And I hope you have a raincoat ready.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Oh, coming from San Francisco, I think I'll be prepared, but we'll see. It's been pretty rainy here too.

Will Butler:

What's it like in terms of accessibility in London, the physical accessibility?

Srin Madipalli:

So physical accessibility can be mixed. In some newer parts of the city, everything is very modern, new buildings are all built to building codes where very easy to get in. There's bathrooms that are easy to use. The challenge is more in older parts of town. It's a challenge that I think you find anywhere in Europe or where you have older infrastructure. Accessibility is sometimes not as good, but things are improving, and I feel like you can do pretty much everything I need to do on a given day.

Will Butler:

How does it compare to a city like New York?

Srin Madipalli:

In some ways similar and in some ways different. So, again, just because a lot more stuff in New York was built more recently than in London, so it's easier to get into, compared to, I don't know, like a five, 600-year-old building or something like that. But then on the flip side, one of the things I do really find easy with London is, for example, all the black taxis are wheelchair accessible. So at any given moment, there are just tens of thousands of taxis that I can jump into that are wheelchair accessible, and I can get out about town. Whereas in somewhere like New York or San Francisco, I probably do have to wait longer to find transport around town.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's awesome that every single taxi is wheelchair accessible. That seems really uncommon.

Srin Madipalli:

Yeah. Every public wheelchair taxi. So that's the black cabs.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Nice.

Srin Madipalli:

I have not come across anywhere else in the world where, yes, pretty much every taxi is accessible. And it does make life so much easier.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Oh yeah, I bet. That's really cool.

Will Butler:

So how did you get into working in accessibility, Srin? And I want to hear the origin story about how Accomable came to be.

Srin Madipalli:

I got into working in accessibility in a slightly circuitous route. I started off life as a corporate lawyer. I then left that to go back to university and did an MBA. But during that MBA I started to learn to code, and in parallel, I'd taken some time off to go traveling and found it really difficult but absolutely loved it. So a couple of years later when I had some time on my hands and had finished a big freelance development project, me along with a friend of mine, Martin, we wanted to see whether we could build a travel platform that could help people with disabilities travel more easily.

Srin Madipalli:

So Martin and I are wheelchair users, and the initial prototype product that I put together was focused very much on wheelchair accessibility and trying to find accommodation that could meet the requirements that we both had, such as having a roll-in showers and grab rails. And we started this off less as a, this is a business. It was simply, could we build a useful product that could help the community travel more easily? So I came into accessibility more through trying to solve a challenge that I had faced personally.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

So you're the second person who we've talked to on this podcast so far who has degrees in law and business and also codes. Why do you think that folks with these backgrounds are so attracted to the accessibility space?

Srin Madipalli:

I think in terms of those who working on the tech side, I think there is a natural draw towards using technology to solving accessibility problems. Tech has a very natural ability to scale as well. So if you can get the product right, you can benefit a lot of people. And in terms of them all having legal backgrounds, I think maybe just everyone just gets fed up with the law and they want a new career.

Will Butler:

Is that what happened to you?

Srin Madipalli:

A little bit.

Will Butler:

But you learned how to code as well? Where did you learn to code?

Srin Madipalli:

I learned to code primarily on a bunch of just websites and YouTube videos and with the help of some friends. So when I was at university, I saw some fellow students who were computer scientists making things and started doing introductory sessions with them. They pointed me in the direction to other resources, and I found it really interesting and really enjoyed it, and it took off from there really.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

What was the idea behind Accommodable as a tool?

Srin Madipalli:

So the idea behind Accomable was that we were a website where you would have listings similar to Airbnb, but the two things that were unique about Accomable was that we spent considerable time using photography to make sure information on the listing was accurate. So if somebody said there was a grab rail or a roll-in shower, they would have to provide a photo to back it up.

Srin Madipalli:

Secondly, we were very granular on the filters we had. So it wasn't just a filter called, is it accessible? We broke that down into 20-plus different things, so people could find the different accessibility features that work for them. So what I need is very different to what you, Will, would need. So we wanted to be able to build that experience around the needs of what a guest's accessibility needs were.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah, that totally makes sense. Because I imagine if you were to just ask someone, "Hey, is this bathroom accessible?" They would think of accessibility through one lens. So having photos having that... Yeah.

Srin Madipalli:

And it's usually the lens that people themselves know of. So really encouraging good, accurate information creates transparency, and allows guests to decide what works for them. And that was a fundamental premise of Accomable, and that is sort of what we created.

Will Butler:

Can you give me a sense of like, if you go over to a friend's house, what are the odds that their home is "accessible" or what does that even mean, and how do you navigate that?

Srin Madipalli:

For a powered wheelchair user like me, the probability that a friend's home is accessible in the purest sense, like it being somewhere I could live, is probably low, if they themselves are not in need of those sorts of features. And the other thing also depends on is where in the world they are. I mean if they're living in a modern apartment block that's been built at a really high specification, I can go into their apartment probably without too much trouble. I just probably wouldn't be able to use the bathroom or stay there unless it's a roll-in shower. But then in somewhere like, say, San Francisco, for instance, where so many homes that are walk-ups, I feel like the probability of a friend's home being accessible was probably a lot less.

Will Butler:

How does that shape your approach to travel? You travel the world so extensively. How do you keep from getting discouraged or feeling negatively about that experience of encountering that many barriers?

Srin Madipalli:

I think because I faced these challenges from day one, I think I've just gotten used to it in a way, and I've never known any different, and I've always seen it as a challenge, like, "Okay, how do I get to where I need to?" In terms of how it's shaped my travel experiences, it just means I go in with the assumption knowing that there are going to be these difficulties, and I have to spend more time and be more considered in where I go and making sure I spend the time to research where I'm staying and that it works for me.

Srin Madipalli:

And actually that is what inspired Accomable. It was just trying to take all that effort that I put in, trying to take some of that away, and putting that in the website so you could start taking some of that work away, and so somebody one day could just see a listing and decide to book it. So in a way, even though it was a challenge, it was that challenge that inspired us and facilitated us to build this.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's great. And so when you were building Accomable, sounds like you had a lot going on, from building a company to, I believe you were the initial developer of the entire product, yeah? What were some of the challenges in making Accomable, in seeing this vision through?

Srin Madipalli:

The challenges at Accomable, in those early days, were very similar to what every new venture or any technology startup has to face. You are trying to do a million things at once, you are getting pulled in different directions, you're dealing with very, very limited resources, and you have this big vision of all these things that you want to do, but you have to choose one or two things to do, and that is exhausting. It means working really long hours. You have to do everything you humanly can to keep things moving forward.

Will Butler:

What were the big victories at Accomable, or what were the moments you remember most? Or even your favorite failures or things that you didn't expect were going to end up good?

Srin Madipalli:

Yeah, I can probably give you a little bit of each, actually. In terms of what was our favorite moment, was probably near the beginning when we had our first customer make a booking, where it was like, "This is really amazing." Somebody has actually used something that we built to base her travel experience, and that was a very cool feeling. Because, again, up until that moment, it was just a fun experiment side project to see if we could build something useful. And knowing that somebody else found it useful, that was, I think, a very favorite moment for everybody.

Srin Madipalli:

And in terms of things when things haven't quite gone to plan, I think in a startup you're so used to that so regularly, if there was to be something maybe a little bit of a failing, was that we tried to do everything too quickly, too soon. We were so excited about the vision, and we probably could have prioritized certain things better. So in the early days, I think we just ended up in a situation where you were just perpetually exhausted just trying to do everything at once.

Will Butler:

Where did that first traveler go with their booking?

Srin Madipalli:

To Barcelona, to a holiday apartment in Barcelona.

Will Butler:

Hey, there's a lot of walk-ups in Barcelona.

Srin Madipalli:

Yeah, but there's also... Barcelona is also really good for accessibility as well. So back in '92, during the Olympics and Paralympics, from what I understand, quite a lot of the city was redeveloped, and a lot of infrastructure was upgraded. So in Europe, Barcelona is a really popular destination for folks needing accessibility.

Will Butler:

Yeah, they'd done a lot of work on the curbs, I know, and-

Srin Madipalli:

The curbs, the Metro, and also the local tourism, the Catalan Tourism Board, have done some really cool things to create accessibility guides for the region as well that I know a lot of people find very useful.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

What in your experience or research is the most accessible city in Europe?

Srin Madipalli:

That's a really interesting question. I've never found the perfect city. So I think in my mind it's like an amalgamation I want to create of lots of different cities. So I want to recreate the curb cuts of Barcelona, the taxis of London, the metro system of Singapore, the modern buildings of another new city. I just want to take the best thing to lots of different cities and merge them into this one super accessible city.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. If are there any city planners listening to this podcast, or anyone starting-

Srin Madipalli:

Yeah, they know where to find me. Exactly.

Will Butler:

It sounds like a dream city. Where are the homes coming from though?

Srin Madipalli:

Oh, the accessible homes. Good question. I think maybe this city would have to be the first in kind.

Will Butler:

Right, right. They'd build the homes from scratch, right?

Srin Madipalli:

Exactly.

Will Butler:

Well, so you created this company Accomable. How long was the company operating fully for?

Srin Madipalli:

It was started in the summer of 2015, and the sale to Airbnb happened in November of 2017.

Will Butler:

Can you walk us through how that happened? How did you get linked up with Airbnb?

Srin Madipalli:

Sure. So Accomable had a great problem in the sense that we were growing faster than what we could cope with and needed more resource and investment to scale our solution to a much more global audience. As a company, we were very mission focused, and our biggest priority was to simply take this solution and this concept we had to as many people as possible. And very early on it was suggested about talking to companies like Airbnb to see whether there could be some kind of tie-up or explore what could happen.

Srin Madipalli:

So an introduction was made via one of Accomable's investors to somebody at Airbnb. And then I was invited to come over and present what we were doing. And very quickly the conversation moved to like, "Okay, you guys are doing something really cool with Accomable. We'd love to find a way to make sure that we could take this to Airbnb's community."

Srin Madipalli:

And so in the months that followed, lots of conversations about making sure that we were aligned on mission and values, and loved spending time with Airbnb's CEO, Brian Chesky, on how we could build something really cool together. And, yeah, from there on it was making sure that the Accomable community, that we felt convinced that this would be developed, and we could help create more options for the community. So a few months later we ended up signing, and I moved out to San Francisco for a couple of years.

Will Butler:

How big was that Accomable community at the time? How did you measure it?

Srin Madipalli:

Oof, can't remember the date now, but we had thousands of users, and Facebook groups, and thousands of followers on Twitter. So, relatively, it's a small community compared to Airbnb, but it was big in our world.

Will Butler:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

So how has your day-to-day work changed since you've been acquired by Airbnb?

Srin Madipalli:

So there's been a number of changes. I think there is a different mindset to building a small website product with a smaller community to then making an upgrade to an existing platform that had been around 10 or so years. So your work now is less about building from scratch, but more how do you make thoughtful and impactful improvements to a platform that has hundreds of millions of people around the world using it. And that for me has been a great challenge. It's a new set of problems, but for me this is exactly the problem that we wanted to work on.

Srin Madipalli:

And I think also thinking bigger picture here, like my dream, the reason we created Accomable was that existing websites that I wanted to use were not websites that I could use. So actually, integrating Accomable into the bigger picture of Airbnb meant that everybody could use the same platform. My friend's family could use Airbnb if they were traveling with me rather than having to use something else. So it's different, but it was for me a really exciting new challenge.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I want to sit with this for a minute because there have been so many startups or small ventures in different corners of the world that tried to become the Yelp of disability or the X of X for the accessibility community, and being that you actually walked this path, I wonder what more advice you can give to companies who are trying to create an innovative idea on a small scale but then have a big impact with it, mainstream it, get acquired, whatever it may be. Do you think this is a recreatable path for other disability and accessibility entrepreneurs?

Srin Madipalli:

Potentially, yes. I think there are other verticals where there is a significant need of innovative tech companies to solve a clear accessibility problem. I definitely think, yes, there are other verticals. How they do that? Again, I think it does depend though. I think in travel, I felt we had created a really good playbook and a really good methodology for doing this that was also full of like intrinsic expertise. I think my advice to any other companies is, again, it's just making sure they do that. That if they do one thing, they have got to do it better than anybody else. And then if you are the expert at it, it then makes it easier to tell the story to a bigger organization as to why it would make sense to make that tie-up happen.

Srin Madipalli:

I think also I think it also requires the vision of the acquiring company, and that is one thing I've always been incredibly impressed and grateful within the Airbnb leadership group, is that you do have very mission-driven people that do want to improve things and actually really care about this stuff.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. To that point, I've had the pleasure having a lot of really great conversations with Airbnb's digital accessibility team in the past with Michael and Diane and a few other folks. I'm guessing that while you are focused on in-home accessibility, you also are working a lot in partnership with the digital accessibility team. So I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about what that's like and what kind of goals you all share.

Srin Madipalli:

Yeah, sure thing. So I guess we work in partnership with them for sure. I think when I first joined, I thought it was also really key that I emphasize where my own skill sets and knowledge lie. Even though I am sort of aware of digital accessibility and know some of things, it's really important that the domain experts on this are taking the lead. So the digital team, we support and cheer them on, for sure, and they're doing some really amazing things and have made huge strides in improving stuff. But equally, I do try and make sure that our team is trying to solve these very specific problems about travel in real life and accessible travel, and getting really focused on it.

Will Butler:

So what are some of those problems that you're trying to solve on the in-home side?

Srin Madipalli:

Sure. So one of the biggest product builds over the last 18 months... Sorry, two of the biggest product builds. So one is introducing the filters we had, or similar to the filters we had at Accomable, into Airbnb. So we launched 27 new guest filters for folks with accessibility needs, and we're currently doing a lot of research on how to expand those filters to better help other types of disabilities too.

Srin Madipalli:

And then the second thing, we built a very significant photo uploading and education tool, where if a host says they have a roll-in shower or a step-free entrance, they can only select that box if they provide a photo. So very similar to things that we had built at Accomable, but there was quite a complex and significant undertaking to build all of this at Airbnb that took a lot of the last 12 to 18 months up.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

So it seems like these product improvements are really great for Airbnb users with disabilities who are looking for accessible spots. But it's also a great tool, like you were saying, for educating hosts about accessibility, because I'm guessing a lot of people who are putting their homes up on Airbnb might not know anything about accessibility. So you mentioned, I think you travel around educating hosts. Could you talk a little bit about what that's been like and what have been your biggest takeaways from those tours?

Srin Madipalli:

Yeah, sure thing. The education piece has been huge. So, as you say, so in product, there is a lot more guidance and a lot more information for hosts to better evaluate what they may have in their home. And secondly, we've been piloting a number of real-world workshops where we invite some of our biggest and best performing hosts who also have major connections into their local host community for a training and awareness workshop where we give them a bit of an introductory one-on-one related to accessibility, things such as language and general awareness of how to best create a wonderful experience for a guest with accessibility needs.

Srin Madipalli:

And so last year, we did that in just over 25 places around the world. And that took me to around the US, Europe, and in Asia. And I think what was really lovely about that experience was that in so many different cultures, people would genuinely care about this, and there is a real need and yearning for better information about this. So it was a really fun project. And it was great to be able to connect with the host and see their enthusiasm for this.

Srin Madipalli:

And we're very frank in the sense that not everybody can modify their home immediately. But the point was to start planting the seeds in the host's mind about thinking about this in the future. And actually I just got a message today from a host who came to one of my talks in Tokyo, who said that they're in the middle of completely remodeling their home based on coming to that workshop, and they've completely refitted their bathrooms and building it to a really high level of accessibility. So baby steps, but we're already getting some really encouraging feedback from hosts that people are actually make taking clear actions about this.

Will Butler:

That's wonderful.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Srin, how many stamps do you have in your passport right now?

Srin Madipalli:

That is a great question. Do you know I have never counted the number of stamps in my passport. Well, if I was to hazard a guess, something in the 25 to 30 number, maybe, in the last five, six years, I think. Maybe more.

Will Butler:

But you have, or at least over the past year, always been traveling. Tell us a little bit about that. What's that been like?

Srin Madipalli:

Yeah, I feel like I spent a big chunk of last year on the road or in a plane. And so it's been a mixture of things. Like I do try to prioritize meeting disability community groups in a number of parts of the world. So we have run community meetups in everywhere from Los Angeles, to New York, to London, to Tokyo, and Singapore, where we have just got members of the disability community in a room, and I just talk about some of the work we're doing, but also set expectations that even though we are doing a lot of work, there's still a number of things to go, and just hopefully get people excited that a bunch of people that really care about this are trying to improve things. So that's one track of work where it's community engagement. And then secondly as mentioned, I try to do a lot meeting some of our biggest host groups around the world to help with this education program.

Will Butler:

What makes a successful disability community meetup, in your mind?

Srin Madipalli:

People turning up.

Will Butler:

Yeah.

Srin Madipalli:

Or seeing even if people are unhappy or they've got lots of difficult question, for me the priority is that people are curious to learn what we are doing, and I have the chance to share our plans. And that for me is what makes a successful meetup.

Will Butler:

And in terms of countries where you feel like you've taken the biggest steps forward, what are those places do you think?

Srin Madipalli:

It's difficult to say. I think there's so much... It's a big world out there, and I think everywhere has things that are positive and negative. It's like when we first opened this podcast talking about some cities have really good transportation but maybe older buildings, whereas other cities have newer buildings but maybe the attitudes may be a little bit different. So I think there is just so much variance from place to place. So when we did some of our talks in Asia, accessibility was a lot newer in some of these talks, but then people were super excited to learn more. And, as mentioned, we had hosts then getting in touch saying, "How do I modify my home? What do I do?" So I think the key thing for me is that there's been really great interest and engagement everywhere we've been.

Will Butler:

So you think platforms like Airbnb or the work that you're doing has a potential to sort of sand down some of the cultural frictions around disability?

Srin Madipalli:

I hope so. And I think the very nature of the Airbnb platform is to bring people together and build community. So hopefully we can help facilitate more trips and hopefully break down more societal barriers that people with disabilities face.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

What are you most proud of accomplishing at Airbnb so far?

Srin Madipalli:

I am proud of the fact that we got this topic invested in at a major platform and the opportunity to take this to scale. I think we have an amazing team that are super passionate, super driven about this area, and it's very much building as for the long-term as well. I don't want this to be something where you make a few changes and that's it. For me, the big success is being able to institutionalize this work so in a decade to come, 20 years to come, there are still really talented teams of people trying to improve and trying to constantly make this better for travelers with accessibility needs.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

That's awesome.

Will Butler:

Yeah. And it's all about sustainability in this field.

Srin Madipalli:

Completely. And challenges will constantly develop as well. Like what would somebody with an accessibility need faces now could be different in 10 years time. And the only way any kind of product company like ourselves can be responsive is if there are people who understand the community and able to build in response to those needs.

Will Butler:

Let's talk baby steps in terms of... I don't want to put you on the spot too much, but for those who are listening who might be hosts or just thinking about their friends with accessibility needs, what are the little things they can start doing or start looking into resources to make their homes more accessible to everyone?

Srin Madipalli:

I think, first, if they do have a listing on any platform, it's just making sure that the information is really accurate and they're providing as much detail as possible, as it's less about judging the everyday hosts for what they don't or do have, but more about making sure that they communicate exactly what they have so folks like me and you, Will, can decide, "Okay, this works for me. This doesn't work for me."

Srin Madipalli:

Secondly, for instance, in the US, a lot of the local independent living centers have lots of great resources on how to modify your home, how to make changes, and they are a great resource. So I think every country does have different nonprofits and resource guides that can assist on what to do in the home. I think the other area is join organization and events that allow you to be an ally to the disability community and learn from people with lived experience about what can be done to improve that experience.

Will Butler:

Yeah. There are resources in every place. It's true, and-

Srin Madipalli:

And I'm sure, Will, the work that you guys have done in partnership with the Lighthouse and other great nonprofits encourage people to reach out to these groups and learn what they do and learn from their expertise.

Will Butler:

What's coming up for you guys? What do you want to accomplish in the next year or in the next couple of years?

Srin Madipalli:

A lot of the effort this year is finding supply and good supply. It is something that is still very much a work in progress and that we are trying to do better, and we have a dedicated group of people who do try to find more listings. And secondly, it's really trying to scale out the host education program. So last year was all about doing host education on a real-world level. We're now exploring how can we do this in a way where it can be broadcasted to many more people.

Will Butler:

How can people help you in that?

Srin Madipalli:

Great question. So when whenever we do run events, so call out so hopefully people are interested in joining us. The research team in accessibility is constantly running focus groups and feedback sessions. So, again, hopefully when people do see those calls, they feel engaged to join. And I think also just keep on advocating and evangelizing the importance of this area within their community. The more people that are talking about it, the more that we can affect change.

Will Butler:

If you could snap your fingers and just change one thing about this industry or this field that we work in, what would it be? And don't say, "For everything to be accessible."

Srin Madipalli:

Oh, did I tell you, I was going to say, "I want everything to be accessible"? No, I think, actually if I was to do one snap-my-fingers thing, it's kind of what we've been doing a lot the last 18 months, two years, where it's actually been spending a lot of time working with disabled communities around the world on how we could build a better product. It is something that they wish more companies in the industry you would do just as a habit.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah, absolutely.

Srin Madipalli:

And I think ultimately, if all players are making conscious efforts in outreach and to run research and focus groups and getting people from the community actually working in their teams, then that will just improve the speed and ability of organizations to actually build great accessible products.

Will Butler:

Beautiful. Well, Srin Madipalli, thank you so much for joining us all the way from London, and we'll look forward to tracking Airbnb's progress and checking in with you at some point in the future.

Srin Madipalli:

Likewise, thank you so much for having me.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

All right, letterhead, this wraps our show for today. Thank you for listening to 13 Letters.

Will Butler:

Thanks to our consulting producer, Sam Greenspan.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

People can get in touch with us by emailing 13letters, that's 1-3-letters-at-bemyeyes.com.

Will Butler:

We love reading your reviews on Apple Podcasts and any other podcast app, and if you write one, maybe we'll even read one on the podcast.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

Yeah. Even bad ones.

Will Butler:

That would be spicy.

Cordelia McGee-Tubb:

It would be spicy. We'll each have a glass of milk to drink.

Will Butler:

Shot of whiskey. Great.