CHANGES WE WANT TO SEE HAPPEN

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Contention One: Formal, Systematic Changes that Governing Bodies Can Make Happen

  • Subpoint A: There needs to be a formalized system for requesting and approving accommodations because right now, one does not exist

There are a vast variety of disabilities a participant may have. One of the most sustainable and continuously reactive measures a governing body can take is implementing a formal system for accommodations. Disabled people ought to have the ability to ask for reasonable accommodations they need to participate more equitably. Participants with ADHD may need extra in-round prep time. Wheelchair-using participants may need their rounds to be held on the ground floor. Participants may need the tournament information communicated electronically (electronic postings versus paper postings, for instance) to pair with assistive technology like screen readers or font adaptations.

 

These are far from the only simple alterations a competitor may need, that is why there needs to be a system to make these requests. Accessibility cannot be a one-off, one-time effort. It is something that needs to be continually implemented and continually react to the changing needs of an individual and the wider understanding of disability theory.

Additionally, this system needs to be formal, uniform, and easily accessible. Participants need to be encouraged to ask for accommodations. Participants need to know that it is okay to ask for them. It is important to remember that high school speech and debate participants are still children. K-12 education teaches children to be compliant. It is not enough to say that a parent or child or coach could email a tournament director, and they could all try to work something out. There needs to be some assurance that accommodations are 1) okay to ask for 2)will be approved 3) will be protected and implemented. A formal system has the power to do this.

  • Subpoint B: Time needs to be more flexible

Forfeit time, prep time, speech time--these are all strictly kept on tournament day. We have all been in a room with a strict judge that nags about prep time when you are just trying to get the email chain going. These rules around time are so strictly and unforgivingly implemented at tournaments that they can cause real inequity for disabled participants. As much as non-disabled conceptions of speech and debate may wish, some disabilities will not bend to such stern measures no matter what justifications about the tournament running late or unfair advantages are leveraged.

 

There are numerous reasons why a disabled participant may be "late" to a round: they could have a flare-up, need to take medication, have difficulties finding the room, have difficulties physically making their way to a room. Neurodiverse and/or cognitively disabled participants may need extended prep time because of difficulties with focusing, reading, writing, anxiety, or something else. Nonverbal participants may need longer speech times to utilize augmentative and alternative communication. Participants with chronic health conditions may need to stop mid-speech to leave the room and take care of their bodies or minds. 

 

A more forgiving conception of time needs to be protected in the handbooks of governing organizations and tabrooms so that disabled people may be able to equitably participate. An extra five or ten minutes here and there really will not break this activity, but it could make all the difference for some competitors. 

  • Subpoint C: There needs to be a better system for reporting incidents. One that everyone knows about and actually takes action. Content warning: sexual assault, other forms of violence

Whether organizations admit to it or not, terrible things sometimes happen at tournaments. Students are threatened, assaulted, and face very blatant manifestations of racism, sexism, ableism, and so on. The children of this activity need to be protected. When these terrible things do occur, participants need to know that tournament officials are there for them.

 

Tabroom is seen as this place participants are never allowed to enter for any reason because of fairness in the activity. But what about when someone has just faced sexual assault or just been threatened with physical harm or just been called a slur? It is important to put the value of human life and experience before the activity. Children are conditioned to follow rules. If they have been told over and over tabroom is strictly off-limits, then they will never feel safe coming to an official when they have just experienced something traumatic. There needs to be a system implemented for dealing with and resolving these incidents. 

  • Subpoint D: Tournament staff, both judges and Tabroom, need to commit to disability education 

There is much more work to be done to make this activity accessible beyond the explicitly mentioned potions of 1AC. Judges, coaches, and tournament staff need to commit themselves to continually learn about facilitating accessible spaces and train future individuals who work in speech debate, whether they be directors, tabroom officials or judges, on appropriate practices, behavior, and interventions.

One way that tournaments can go about this by including accessibility training in pre-tournament judge training. Along with teaching parents, judges, and other involved people about the basics of debate like speech times and rules, they can also discuss the importance of accessibility and ways to make debaters feel more included in the round.

Ballots can also include reminders to parents and judges (similar to the implicit bias reminder on Tabroom) that ensuring accessibility is not only important but necessary

 

  • Subpoint E: Sitting needs to be acceptable

There are several reasons a participant may not be able to or may not be comfortable standing. It is not a tournament or judge or coach or fellow competitors' place to determine for an entry if their reason for not wanting or being able to stand is valid. The heart of this activity is in its educational, discursive, and analytical components--sitting would not impact these aspects of the activity. Speechies and debaters should be allowed to give speeches sitting if that is how they feel most comfortable.

In debate, blocking has very little if any impact on who wins a round. Generally, debates are won off of the flow (written record of arguments and responses made in a debate). However, some participants feel pressure to stand because it is a norm within the activity and fear that sitting would be seen as rude or improper which could then lose them speaker points (points awarded based on speaking abilities, among other things) or create a round-losing bias in the judge. 

In speech, blocking gives movement and spatial enhancement to the words a participant is saying. Some people cannot stand or do not feel comfortable standing, and we need to include these people in the activity as well. 1AC-CESSIBILITY proposes that allowing participants to give their speeches from a chair at the front of the room, instead of standing. We believe that not only is this a reasonable accommodation for a participant to utilize, but this is actually an opportunity for speech to innovate. Imagine how speeches could be enhanced from a chair. Speechies could use the chair to give a more conversational, friendly, tone; they could lean or turn in the chair as a new form of blocking; or they could use this as an opportunity to focus on facial expressions. 

 

However, it is important to ensure that mobility is not a prerequisite for oratorical success. The speaker's triangle (a triangular pattern of movement common in speech where a speaker moves left and right of their centered, original standing point to mark a new section of the speech) is beloved, but it is not an essential property of individual events. 1AC-CESSIBILITY proposes a new way to imagine blocking: a fun, additional area to advance your rankings but not inherently necessary. If a participant were to sit in a chair at the front of the room for their speech and not move at all, that should be acceptable and competitively viable as well. There are several other ways to shine in speech-- writing content, essay structure, humor, emotion, rhythm, cadence, timbre, it goes on-- and to requirement movement from competitors would be an act of ableism.

  • Subpoint F: Nuisance fees need to be a thing of the past

Nuisance fees are created to deter participants and from leaving the tournament once they have made a significant "mistake" or have lost a number of rounds that would make it impossible to break (advance to elimination rounds). Nuisance fees are a perfect example of what happens when events are not created with disabled people in mind. 

Flare-ups, illness, injury, and incidents can all occur as a result of some disabilities at any time. Disabled participants should not have to worry about receiving a fine for being a "nuisance" for needing to leave a tournament to take care of their bodies and/or minds. Safety and wellbeing need to be paramount to everything else. Nuisance fees punish disability, which is unacceptable. 

There is also the issue of wealth privilege. These nuisance fees only have the potential to deter non-wealth privileged people. This means that nuisance fees' negative effect is magnified for low-income students as well. 

  • Subpoint G: Taking care of our physical, mental, emotional health should be valued

Oftentimes, participants in speech and debate feel excessive pressure to prioritize their competitive success over their personal well-being which is reinforced by extremely demanding tournament environments. This makes access difficult for those who cannot forgo self-care practices and is ultimately not sustainable. Some highly competitive individuals are at tournaments nearly every weekend of the school year which makes the high-stress environment of tournaments a constant reality. 

Some examples of this mindset include: skipping meals to prepare, practice, or cut cards, going for extended periods with little to no sleep, ignoring flare-ups, infections, injuries, and more. Speech and debate should not be a non-stop, all-costs pursuit because it is neither practical nor accessible. Many tournaments create their schedules with no breaks for meals or enough space in between rounds to go to the bathroom, eat a snack, or take a few moments to mentally recoup.

 

Most tournaments also do not offer proper food for the people they host. Many participants have dietary restrictions caused by things like Celiac disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, allergies, and more. Not to mention, several people have specific dietary restrictions they follow as a practice of their religion or personal ethics. Despite this, the staple tournament food, which is recommended by the NSDA, is pizza. While it is certainly cheap and convenient, it is inedible for several people with dietary restrictions. Tournaments need to make an effort to include food items for everyone. 

 

The inhospitable environment of tournaments often leaves participants feeling drained which can make going to go to school or work the following day challenging as well. 

It should be normal for all participants, regardless of ability, to make space for their personal needs within the activity. Accessibility is not possible without valuing health in all its forms.

Contention Two: Informal changes that the community needs to come together to make

  • Subpoint A: The culture of demeaning your opponents casually needs to end

 In both the speech and debate, there is a culture of commenting on who is a “good” or “bad” participant both in and out of rounds. It is not uncommon to hear students and coaches alike make casual comments along the lines of “they didn’t know what they were talking about,” or “You’re so good/bad I’m/you’re totally going to lose/win this round.” No matter which way the comments go, they contribute to a larger culture of prioritizing competitive success over uplifting and promoting the educational value of the activity of one another.

 

These comments also can have the effect of making participants feel like their value as a person is equal to their competitive success, especially because of the intellectual nature of speech and debate. They also make starting out in the activity much harder. Speech and debate is difficult, and there is a lot to learn from lingo to tournament mechanics to how to craft a good speech or case. This culture can scare away new participants, especially ones who may have a disability they are trying to make work with the activity. 

We envision a speech and debate community where participants support each other without demeaning themselves and others. An accessible speech and debate community looks like one where everyone can access the educational benefits of communication, creativity, curiosity.

  • Subpoint B: Some debaters cannot spread and that is okay

Spreading is another practice that may not be possible for people who are hard of hearing, or have auditory processing disorders, speech impairments, and/or cognitive disabilities. There is a belief pervasive in debate that high-level, circuit debate has to involve spreading and that non-spreading debate is not as valuable, rigorous, or competitively worthwhile. This is incorrect. Inclusivity is always worth planning for and embracing as part of the activity's culture. Spreading provides the challenge of managing a larger number of arguments. Many people find this challenge rewarding. However, because not everyone can participate in spreading debate, it should not be the only form of "acceptable" high-level competition.

In addition to being more inclusive (which is enough of a warrant in its own right), non-spreading debate means that competitors will more thoughtfully select their arguments for presentation in a round because of the time and speed constraints. This may lead to more genuine and quality discourse. 

What we recommend the community does to foster equity in terms of spreading is to always ask an opponent if they are okay with spreading before a round starts and to come prepared with a version of your case(s) that is appropriate for non-spreading debate. 

  • Subpoint C: Replace team tryouts with demonstrated interest

Schools are places for education. We believe that anyone who is interested in learning about or participating in speech and debate should be allowed to, regardless of if someone is already skilled or has skills relating to speaking that are already refined. Speech and debate is based on the principle of education, and this virtue should extend to people with no prior experience in the activity or related activities. If someone has the enthusiasm for learning about the art of communication, persuasion, and argumentation, this should be a venue open to them to learn-- not an exclusionary club for those who are already skilled. 

Trying out for teams gives preference to people with certain privileges which then gives rise to inequity within the activity. The tryout process can lead to discrimination that excludes marginalized students from the team, due to implicit biases of those who conduct the tryouts. Additionally, speech and debate programs are usually (but not always) available to people at wealthier schools because of the nature of program funding. Having prior experience requires that someone has had access to a school previously with a program. New high schoolers might not have attended a middle school with a program, new college students might not have attended a high school with a program, and thus, people who never had the opportunity to try this activity are unlikely to be able to pick it up. This represents a loss for the wider speech and debate community which would have been enriched by the discourse and character these people could have brought. 

We recognize there is the issue of funding larger programs. This is an issue which can be solved. Many teams restrict the number of competitors because of the finite resources available. Schools (especially colleges and private high schools) are institutions with large budgets with the capacity for negotiation. Adding a few people to a team would likely not break the team's financial ability to attend tournaments. If it were a matter of having only enough funding for a few dozen people, but a few hundred want to participate, it is worth pointing out to schools that speech and debate is something that has demonstrated interest and is worth funding. However, if receiving more funding is not possible, kids should still be able to join. It does not cost money to have more people attend practice and learn the craft. Allowing people to show up to practice is better than being excluded entirely. Likely, this will also filter out the number of people from a standard interest meeting. While it is not ideal, not every single team member needs to go to every single tournament on the calendar.

Participants could alternate which tournaments competitors are allowed to attend, teams could negotiate entry fees as a condition of bringing more people, teams could host intra-team scrimmages, and more. There are several other compromises a team could work out to make a financial situation work, and 1AC encourages them to commit themselves to making it work in the name of inclusivity.  

More often though, it is a matter of creating a false sense of elitism and artificial exclusivity. Many schools that have a try out process are also the schools with the largest amount of funding. Speech and debate should strive to eliminate barriers to entry not promote them in the name of pride. 

Speech and debate is a great learning tool for non-native English speakers. To deprive students of access to this activity because of their current language skills is unfair. Many non-native English speakers are great researchers, performers, and critical thinkers, but lack the initial fluency required to make it through a tryout. Eliminating the tryout process would make the benefits of language education more accessible as well. 

Thus, 1AC-CESSIBILITY advises replacing speech and debate team try outs with demonstrated interest.