SINGAPORE, April 7 — For most of us, the most important considerations when it comes to our travel accommodations are price, location and visual appeal.
Not Srin Madipalli, who has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which affects the nerve cells in the spinal cord and impairs muscle movement. The London-based lawyer-turned-entrepreneur co-founded Accomable last year with his friend Martyn Sibley, who also has SMA, after they found it hard to find suitable accommodation.
Billed as “Airbnb for people with disabilities”, the online booking service offers more than 500 adaptive properties in over 36 countries worldwide. Madipalli, who was in Singapore earlier this week to start a base to expand its operations in South-east Asia, noted Singapore as “a brilliant destination for all travellers, including those who have a disability”, adding that he loves coming here.
The 29-year-old has not let his physical condition diminish his wanderlust. In 2010, he took six months off his job as a city lawyer to globetrot: He went scuba diving in Bali, did a wheelchair trek in California, and even learnt to fly a plane.
While it was an enriching experience, the logistics of planning the trip proved incredibly difficult. “I’d arrive at an accommodation that was advertised as wheelchair accessible only to find it wasn’t,” he said, adding how difficult it was to find cars for hire that were specially adapted to fit his wheelchair at each new location. “I knew I wanted to build something that could make accessible travel easier.”
Madipalli promptly took an MBA at Oxford and taught himself coding in order to create Accomable. The response, he said, has been brilliant. “We work closely with everyone who books our accommodation to ensure they’re not only confident about their holiday, but are really looking forward to it.”
Why did you think there was a demand for something like Accomable?
It’s often surprising how many people have a mobility issue; 19 per cent of the population in the United States, 10 per cent in the United Kingdom and 97,200 people in Singapore, according to the latest statistics. Yet hotel booking sites often give bad information when it comes to accessibility and can be difficult to trust, which in turn has made many people with a disability very nervous to travel. We’ve also had a great response from customers who do not have a mobility issue — they’re booking holidays for family or friends who have wheelchairs or require step-free access.
What other features besides step-free access and roll-in shower do properties on Accomable offer?
We offer a wide range of accommodation, from cool apartments in Barcelona to country houses in the United Kingdom, and clearly list and verify the accessible features available at each, so people can find the accommodation that suits their needs. As well as step-free access and roll-in showers, other accessibility features include everything from height-adjustable beds to the presence of ceiling, mobile or pool hoists. Some of our properties also offer specialist equipment such as bathroom commodes or wheelchairs to use or rent. What brings us together is an ability to provide quality accessible accommodation, and to ensure our users have a brilliant, stress-free holiday experience.
What was your very first getaway like?
They were visits to see family who live in India. I think they were a huge influence on me. All of the incredible colours and sounds and heat — it was all so different from where I grew up in London. I remember travelling with a wheelchair could be a nightmare, but everyone was so warm and friendly and wanting to help.
How did you prepare for the amazing things you’ve done on your trips?
I love to travel; any of those adrenalin pumping activities, I’m there! For instance, on the Bali trip, I actually found a specialist dive trip operator, which organises adaptive dives. It was the same when I went on safari in South Africa: I found an operator which had a specially adapted 4X4 for my wheelchair. I’d love to get some activities like this on Accomable. Most of the planning comes down to long hours of research online, and then hoping… that it would all work out.
How would you encourage those with mobility issues and their caregivers to overcome their fears of travelling?
We’ve just started an online community, which I think would help. It’s always encouraging to read about other people’s experiences, particularly if they’ve had the same worries as you. I’d encourage (them) to ask questions too, get in touch with us or check out some of the great blogs online on accessible travel. — TODAY