Measuring economic benefits of accessible spaces to achieve 'meaningful' access in the built environment

A review of recent literature




The level of accessibility in the built environment in most cities is still far from optimal. To enable people with a wide range of abilities to fully participate in social and economic activities, a more holistic change is needed in all spaces in which people interact on a daily basis. Building industries—developers, construction companies, and building owners—play a crucial role in accelerating this change. However, without a way to benchmark clear, more direct, and comprehensive economic benefits for these industry stakeholders, the effort of making our built environment more ‘meaningfully accessible’ will not get far. The purpose of this paper, therefore, was to learn how economic benefits of accessibility-related to the built environment has been conceptualized and measured in the empirical literature. Building on the findings, a clearer cost-benefit analytic framework for creating accessible buildings and outdoor spaces may be formulated. Our literature scan of studies published in the last two decades yielded 19 papers, all but two of which are from tourism and transportation research. We found three main approaches to conceptualizing economic benefits: 1) as market potential of accessible sites and services projected at the population-level (mainly in tourism); 2) as cost saved from having accessible infrastructure (mainly in transportation); and 3) as hypothetical return of creating accessible spaces (transportation, housing and urban design) based on users’ willingness-to-pay. The papers ubiquitously agree that there are far-reaching overall benefits of making products and services more accessible for society. But many also acknowledged the data and methodological limitations in current cost-benefit analysis frameworks. Efforts of improving data availability and methodology through cross-disciplinary dialogues are strongly desired. Similarly, a strong voice of public demand for change in the built environment will be critical in fostering the dialogues.

Author Biographies

Mikiko Terashima, School of Planning, Dalhousie University, Halifax

Mikiko Terashima is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Planning for Equity, Accessibility and Community Health (PEACH) Laboratoryat the School of Planning, Dalhousie University.  Mikiko's research connects planning and public health to formulate a more holistic strategies to reduce health inequity stemming from social and built environment.    

Kate Clark, School of Planning, Dalhousie University, Halifax

Kate Clark is a research analyst and project coordinator at the Planning for Equity, Accessibility and Community Health (PEACH) Laboratory at the School of Planning, Dalhousie University.  Kate holds a Master's degree in planning, and her research has focused on complex relationships surrouding heritge and accessibility in the built environment, as well as meanings of equity and inclusivity in participatory research methodologies.   


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How to Cite

Terashima, M., & Clark, K. . (2021). Measuring economic benefits of accessible spaces to achieve ’meaningful’ access in the built environment: A review of recent literature. Journal of Accessibility and Design for All, 11(2), 195–231.