The purpose of this assessment is to discuss and, where possible, quantify the costs and benefits of the final accessibility guidelines for play areas issued by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) under the authority of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The guidelines are intended to provide minimum accessibility requirements for play areas designed for children ages two and over. The guidelines will affect children with disabilities, their parents, and owners and operators of play areas. The guidelines apply only to newly designed and newly constructed play areas and existing play areas that are altered. When adopted by the Department of Justice as standards, all newly designed and newly constructed and all altered play areas must comply with the guidelines.

Need for Standards

The improvements in accessibility expected to result from these guidelines are intended to address the following conditions that may persist in the absence of the guidelines.

  • Many play areas are designed in such a way that they are not accessible to children with disabilities. Children with disabilities are prevented from getting to, through, and off ground level and elevated play components because there is no accessible ground surface and no means (i.e., ramp or transfer system) to access composite play structures. This lack of access deprives these children of the ability to benefit from the opportunities for education and entertainment. Alternatively, it requires that the parents of these children bear higher costs - through increased travel times or provision of alternative play environments - to provide their children with these benefits.
  • Play areas provide unique opportunities for children to interact and develop socialization skills. If children with disabilities lack these play opportunities, or only have segregated play opportunities, children with and without disabilities, cannot take advantage of this socialization. These socialization benefits are a public good that would remain under-provided in the absence of these guidelines. Congress has decided that accessibility to newly constructed and altered play areas is a socially preferred choice that is an essential component of civil rights for persons with disabilities.

Number and Size of Play Areas Affected

The following major business and government categories are likely to own or operate play areas in conjunction with their primary purpose:

  • Eating Places
  • Hotels and Motels
  • Sporting and Recreational Camps
  • Recreational Vehicle Parks and Campsites
  • Miscellaneous Amusement and Recreation
  • Public Schools
  • Private Schools
  • Child Day Care Services
  • Civic, Social, and Fraternal Associations
  • Municipal and State Parks

For each category, we estimate the number of establishments that are likely to have play areas and the number of play areas expected to be constructed or replaced annually. In addition to the diversity of ownership, play areas come in many different sizes. We considered three different model size play areas (small, medium, large) and estimate the distribution of play area sizes for each category. Table ES-1 shows the estimated number of play areas by size that would be constructed or replaced each year in the absence of these guidelines.

Table ES-1

Play Area SizeLower Bound EstimatesUpper Bound Estimates
Small 7,800 10,400
Medium 6,400 8,300
Large 3,200 5,200
Total Play Areas 17,400 23,900

Costs of Guidelines

We estimate the direct and social costs of the guidelines using three different model size play areas (small, medium, and large). The direct costs include the incremental equipment and ground surface costs for designing the model size play areas to comply with the guidelines, compared to a baseline design in the absence of the guidelines, and the incremental maintenance costs (savings) for two ground surface options for the model size play areas. We also estimate the loss of play opportunities resulting from fewer or smaller play areas being built in response to increased costs resulting from the guidelines. This is the social costs of the guidelines. Table ES-2 shows the estimated range of the total annual costs of the guidelines.

Table ES-2. Total Annual Costs of Guidelines
($ in millions)

All Play AreasSurface Option 1:
Engineered Wood Fiber
Surface Option 2:
Rubber & Loose Fill
Social Costs
Low $ 8 $ 3
High $ 12 $15
Direct Costs
Low $29 $18
High $ 61 $69
Total Annual Costs
Low $37 $21
High $ 73 $84

Benefits of Guidelines

The guidelines will produce increased social welfare and increased social equity. Increased social welfare results from increasing the number of accessible play areas. Increasing accessibility will make more play areas accessible to the 5.1 million children with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 14. Parents of children with disabilities also benefit from lower travel costs to take their children to accessible play areas.

Children with disabilities benefit from the increased opportunities to play and to have social interaction with other children. Children without disabilities also benefit from this diversity. Increased accessibility to play areas will provide children with greater exposure to diversity an early age which can help develop higher intellectual and better socialization skills valuable later in life. This analysis does not attempt to measure the benefits to children with and without disabilities that result from the guidelines. Major uncertainties preclude the quantification of these benefits. It is not clear what the appropriate unit of measure should be for diversity or how many units of diversity a child would gain from an accessible play area. It is also not clear how these units of diversity are related to future social benefits.

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.


Play Area is defined as a portion of a site containing play components designed and constructed for children.

Play Component is defined as an element intended to generate specific opportunities for play, socialization, or learning. A play component may be manufactured or natural, such as a garden or land form.

Elevated Play Component is defined as a play component that is approached above or below grade and is part of a composite play structure consisting of two or more play components attached or functionally linked to create an integrated unit that provides more than one play activity.

Ground Level Play Component is defined as a play component that is approached and exited at the ground level. Stand alone slides, balance beams, swings, and spring rockers are examples of ground level play components.

Use Zone is defined as the ground level area beneath and immediately adjacent to a play structure or equipment that is designated by the ASTM F 1497 Standard Consumer Safety Performance Specification for Playground Equipment for Public Use for unrestricted circulation around the equipment and on whose surface it is predicted that a user would land when falling from or exiting the equipment.

Soft Contained Play Structure is defined as a play structure made up of one or more components where the user enters a fully enclosed play environment that uses pliable materials (e.g., plastic, netting, fabric).