5.1 Overview

The guidelines will make more play areas accessible to 5.1 million children with disabilities, between the ages of 3 and 14. (50) Increased access to play areas yields two forms of social benefits, increased social welfare and increased social equity. These benefits are discussed below.

5.2 Increased Social Welfare

Many children, families, and businesses will benefit from the guidelines. Some benefits are listed below:

  • Decreased Travel Costs. Parents of children with disabilities will benefit from lower travel costs to take their children to accessible play areas.
  • Increased Business Opportunities. Restaurant owners, sport camps, and other operators of play areas will benefit from increased profits as families with children with disabilities are more likely to patronize their establishments.
  • Increased Social Development of Children With and Without Disabilities. Children with disabilities will benefit from increased opportunities to play and to have social interaction with other children. Children without disabilities will also benefit from this diversity. There are peer-reviewed studies which find that a child's development is enhanced when he or she is exposed to cognitive challenges provided by play areas. (51), (52), (53), (54) Increased accessibility to play areas will provide children with greater exposure to the diversity at an early age and may develop higher intellectual and socialization skills valuable later in life.

However, these benefits, and others not listed, are private benefits, not social benefits. In a free market, such as the one for the provision of play areas before the guidelines, if the private benefits exceed the private costs, more play areas would be built. Businesses who believed that the increased revenue at their restaurant would justify the expense could construct accessible play areas. Social benefits will only arise if individuals cannot capture the full benefits from accessible play areas. If they cannot obtain the full value, private individuals will systematically under-invest in using and building accessible play areas. Likewise, if there is discrimination, intentional or otherwise, involved in the design of play areas, there may be a systematic under-investment in accessibility features. If the guidelines require more investment in accessible play areas, there may be social benefits.

We did not attempt to measure the benefits of diversity to children with or without disabilities. There are some major uncertainties that preclude quantification. It is not clear what the unit of measure should be for diversity or how many units of diversity a child would gain from an accessible play area. Making a play area accessible does not guarantee that children with and without disabilities will experience playing with each other. It is also not clear how these units of diversity are then related to future social benefits. It is also not clear what unique benefits of interaction at play areas confers. Disabled and non-disabled children can interact in other settings - homes, schools, churches, indoor play, etc. These substitutes for interaction at play areas exist now and will exist after the guidelines. These substitutes limit the magnitude of the potential social benefits of the guidelines. Because of these uncertainties, it is not feasible to compare a quantified estimate of social benefits with the estimate of costs of the guidelines.

5.3 Increased Social Equity

Not all government policies are based on maximizing economic efficiency. Even when the market is operating efficiently, there may be groups or individuals who are subject to discriminatory practices and remain "under-served." In these instances it may be socially desirable to redistribute benefits to those populations that receive less than their "fair" share of goods and services at the market equilibrium. Policies based on furthering the rights of certain groups of individuals provide more equitable distributions of benefits, regardless of the effect on economic efficiency. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that was enacted by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress and reflects the societal decision to eliminate the various forms of discrimination continually encountered by individuals with disabilities, including the discriminatory effects of architectural barriers.

Traditional cost-benefit analysis is deficient when it comes to measuring civil rights benefits and making judgements about fairness or equity. Society relies on political processes to make decisions about redistribution of benefits based on equity considerations. While traditional cost-benefit analysis is not despositive in making equity-based decisions, it can inform the policy makers as they make redistribution decisions.