How can we measure the economic benefits of designing our built environments to ensure access for everyone? Good question. Tourism has a solid body of knowledge on the economics of inclusion, and housing studies cite savings for health budgets. However, we need a benchmark to show clear and direct economic benefits for stakeholders and society. But it has to be meaningful accessibility, not just minimal compliance to standards. That’s the argument in a paper from Canada.
An article in the the Journal of Accessibility and Design for All has a good look at the literature on the subject. Research papers agree that there are overall economic benefits in making products and services more accessible. But we still need a way of getting hold of data and finding a good method for measuring. That’s the key argument in the paper.
Meaningful accessibility is about how the built environment enables everyone to participate in social and economic life. As the authors say, “meaningful accessibility and universal design go hand in hand—meaningful accessibility is a goal of universal design”. They also note that accessible environments are perceived as an altruistic intention rather than a business choice. That is, the notion of special designs for a small group of people who need them.
The aim of the paper is to draw attention to the gap in the research in areas such as planning, urban design and architecture. A strong voice from users of places and spaces calling for change remains essential. So too, is a change in discourse about disability being outside the frame of ‘normal’.
In the concluding comments the authors say meaningful accessibility is harder to sell than green buildings. And that’s despite reduced material costs and energy savings. From a human rights perspective accessibility shouldn’t be an option – it’s a fundamental requirement.
Whether a better or more rigorous framework for economic analysis will win the day is still questionable. The political context is far more complex. The evidence in Australia on the economic benefits of accessible housing was not sufficient to sway all jurisdictions. The argument that “it costs too much” is consistent with the narrative of disability being outside the frame of normal.
Editor’s note: The argument for change is not about economics, it’s about political will. It was only when the Victorian and Queensland governments took the lead on accessible housing that the building code was changed. People say to me that we should be explaining the economic benefits if we want accessibility and inclusion. Sadly, the many economic studies have fallen on stony ground and remain silent and ignored.
This website has more than 20 articles on the economics of inclusion and universal design. Use the search box with “economic” to find them.