“Blasting a Microphone at the Disability Community”: An Inclusive Environment for Jake Hytken at Airbnb

By: Danny Thomas Vang

In early June, an article in The New York Times drew attention to a controversial Rutgers University Study that found “travelers with disabilities (using Airbnb) are more likely to be rejected and less likely to receive preapproval, or temporary clearance, for a potential stay.” This study came on the tails of similar studies that expose racial bias from hosts, and as a result, Airbnb has undergone an initiative to address these barriers to access.

A headshot of Jake, white male with nose ring and trimmed beard and moustache. Jake Hytken, Airbnb 

Yet from inside the company, Jake Hytken has had a much more positive experience. A consultant for Airbnb, Hytken was hired before this study was released, working on an initiative to allow hosts the ability to assess their home’s accessibility and to provide that information on their profile to help make more rental locations user friendly. 

As a gay, Jewish, white male who has been a wheelchair user for half of his life, Hytken acknowledges that he has many privileges, but he has experienced his disability as a negative stigma on many occasions as well. However, disability has never been a source of stigma for him at Airbnb. Hytken is proud that Airbnb has made positive strides toward inclusive design within their products and workforce.  

“Where I am at, it is frankly incredible. I know that their product is not perfect for people with disabilities right now, but in terms of progressiveness, I wish that I could have a loud microphone to tell the community that they care and that they are thinking.”  

From day one, Hytken felt that the company genuinely sought out his participation and contribution.  Airbnb understood that Hytken was new to the organization, so when the New York Times piece from above was written, they ensured that he not be targeted for practices that had been in place before his tenure there.

Within the internal structure of the organization, staff with visible and non-apparent disabilities have created a “ABLE” to start a dialogue about disability awareness, best practices, and challenges in the workplace.  Hytken states, “This is not only a support group, but maybe this is the buffer that is the mediator to give the abled colleagues the education about how to have these conversations.”

Hytken is a firm believer that this is the time for people with disabilities to engage with the tech industry because companies are listening and are creating platforms to continue the dialogue.  For instance, he pointed out that Google Maps has just incorporated a function that will permit users to label accessible locations such as ramps and bathrooms on the application, making it possible to share experiences and knowledge of the physical landscape with other users who may have similar experiences.  “I want to not use regulations as a weapon, but to use your perspective as a weapon and to use that as a point of power.”  It is imperative to be present in the conversation and to participate in a collaborative process with all parties.  “People do not want to come to the conclusion that I have to do this, people want to feel involved in the movement and not forced into the movement.”

An adventurous person at heart, Jake Hytken is preparing to embark on some traveling of his own around the world and is eager to see what access hurdles he encounters.

Interested in more on disability in tech? On Tuesday, August 22nd, from 2-3:30 pm PST the Students for Access will be hosting a free webinar “Beyond Diversity 101: Learning from the Perspectives of People with Disabilities in Tech.” To join us, please RSVP. Captioning will be provided. 

Read more from our Disability in Tech series here: