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Airbnb buys Accomable to better support disabled travelers

Airbnb listings used to limit details for the disabled to "wheelchair accessible." Soon you'll be able to find homes ready to handle all sorts of needs.

Accomable is a site that works like Airbnb, except it caters specifically to people with disabilities.

Airbnb is looking to make things easier for travelers who are disabled.

The lodging-rental company said Thursday that it's rolling out new features for disabled travelers and has bought a business called Accomable.

Accomable is a startup founded in 2015 by two friends with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare neuromuscular disorder that can confine people to wheelchairs. After traveling the world and seeing how difficult it was to find places to stay, they founded Accomable. The startup works similarly to Airbnb in that it's a platform for short-term rentals; the main difference is it caters specifically to people with disabilities.

"Accomable started less as a company or a product but more as a mission and a dream," Srin Madipalli, Accomable CEO and co-founder, wrote in a blog post Wednesday. "A mission to open up travel and adventure to hundreds of millions of disabled people; and a dream that one day, I, as a disabled person could travel the world just like everybody else."

For Airbnb, Accomable seemed like an ideal fit. Airbnb had already been meeting with disability advocacy groups to see how it could make travel more accessible. Along with acquiring Accomable, Airbnb has also added new "accessibility needs" features to its site, such as a checklist for hosts to say whether they have step-free entry to rooms and doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.

"The features help hosts be descriptive about their home's accessibility, and give guests the clear information they need to find the right home for them," Airbnb wrote in a blog post.

In just under a decade, Airbnb has gone from a small startup catering to couch surfers to a billion-dollar business with a massive online presence. It lists roughly 4 million homes for rent in 191 countries -- that's almost every country on earth. As it has grown, it's worked to be more inclusive.

Airbnb's rules already prohibit any type of discrimination against people with disabilities, but the company wanted to do more. Before now travelers with disabilities only had the option of searching for home rentals labeled as "wheelchair accessible." But that's changing.

Over the next few months, Accomable's listings will be migrated to Airbnb and the startup's website will be shuttered. On Airbnb's site, these listings will have step-free access info, detailed photos, and details on a home's accessibility. Airbnb is also working to redesign its text and improve color contrast on its site to make it easier for visually impaired people to read it.

"All of these improvements are important, but they alone aren't the solution," said Airbnb. "They are the start of an ongoing conversation and we're committed to doing more."

Tech Enabled: CNET chronicles tech's role in providing new kinds of accessibility.

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