Equitable Access: Strategies for Participants

Datum: Aug 23rd, 2020
Category: International, Mittwochs-Feature

This is the first part of a four (!) part series on accessibility in debate, looking at strategies for debaters and judges seeking safe access to debate. The second part will cover CA responsibilities and approaches to ensuring access to debate. The third part will encompass different regions’ structures of equity within and outside of tournaments. The fourth and final part will contextualize the gendered and racialized experiences of leaders and organizers across the spectrum of debate circuits. If you have questions, suggestions, or experiences to share, please contact spruced [at] tuta [dot] io

Accessibility in Debate

At tournaments, underrepresented gender and ability identities face barriers to participation.

While there is a broader conversation surrounding trans* inclusion at most tournaments, there are few resources for how trans* people can participate in womxn’s tournaments and forms of trans*sexism that materialize within gender-oriented tournaments. Trans* people also expose themselves to high risks of forcible or innocuous outing through their participation. This trans*exlusion and trans*erasure comes at the cost of access to the unique empowerment that enables women and gender minorities to organize and build structures that challenge gender violence in debate.

This includes meaningful conversations where women and gender minorities are not only comfortable reclaiming their identity, but are also respected and acknowledged – and physically safe – enough to be able to voice themselves in and out of rounds. Womxn’s tournaments provide a place for WGM to be heard, get credited for the analytic work they do in rounds, and access the type of constructive feedback, advice, and judge investment that frequently doesn’t exist in many – if not most – male- dominated debate rounds. Last, womxn’s tournaments provide the opportunity to build supportive communities and discuss ways to improve safety, access, and success in debate for WGM in different places – sharing recruitment ideas, suggesting retention and education programs, combatting sexist leadership and selection processes, and just having a space to share their experiences and be validated for who they are. To bridge the gap between potential benefits of womxn’s tournaments and the hurdles to participation, this article will provide tools to disrupt exclusion, improve safe access to womxn’s tournaments, and document ways to challenge and address trans*sexism at womxn’s tournaments.

Similarly, the existing conversation around accessibility and disability in debate is narrow and largely informed by a homogenization and misrepresentation of what different ability-based barriers have been constructed in debate and maintained through community norms and a default policing.  This article will identify how to identify and realize a range of strategies and shifts in how the experience and structure of a tournament can be accessible to different identities.

Outside Cis & At Womxn’s Tournaments:


  1. Clarify the policy – what is the standard for gender identity? 
  2. Request accommodation through equity if you are outside the standard
  3. Request a reminder at the tournament or equity briefing to specify the inclusion of multiple gender identities, including those that are read as not feminine-expressing


Note that you should remind people you know at the tournament or that know you are competing in the tournament either in advance or in round when you introduce yourself that they should not mention your participation. People, even your partners and friends, do not understand and make mistakes.

Physical Tournaments:

  1. Complete Anonymity: avoid any documentation through registration under alias
    1. If you are a judge that knows someone on the adj core you can request them to include you without providing an email and you can submit feedback or ballots directly to them. You can submit institutional clashes as individual clashes. If not you can use an unidentifying email.
    2. If you are a speaker you can list your partner’s contact information and list your institutional clashes as theirs 
  2. Partial Anonymity: requesting an alias in tab
    1. If you would like your name to be entirely redacted but you can provide contact information and institution, either register under an alias or include in registration that you need an alias
  3. Public Anonymity: requesting post tournament protections
    1. If you are fine with your name being used but would like it redacted from tab, submit that before or during the tournament – you don’t have a lot of notice of how early tab will release. For tabbycat, remind the tab that they need to correct the name in both team composition and as an individual speaker (or your name will still be displayed) 
    2. This can also include requesting your name to be edited out of recordings and videos you may want to be preserved from the tournament

Online Tournaments:

  1. Discord: remember that even if you change your nickname in the group, people messaging you will see your actual discord name
  2. Zoom: remember that if you rename yourself in Zoom it will return to your unedited name when you reenter Zoom
  3. Mixidea: Two options: (1) make a fake twitter account to create a Mixidea account through (2) where tournaments are also using Zoom rooms, you can request to be placed exclusively in Zoom rooms.

Abilities Inclusion:

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Inclusion at Tournaments

For mobility related accessibility:

  1. Request the tournament equity or orgcomm identify rooms with walks, steep walks, or stairs – request to be placed in a room that is not one of those (don’t rely on orgcomm to be familiar with what would be an excessive walking expectation – feel free to give a distance)
  2. If there are limited or no accessible rooms, request to stay in the room for each round – you can ask if your partner can communicate with you electronically to send and discuss the motion while they are returning to the room. 

For experience and processing related accessibility:

  1. Quiet rooms between rounds – you can ask for one to be made available before the tournament. Remind orgcomm that this should be away from loud external noises they may not consider (eg: construction)
  2. Alternative note taking – you can request to use a computer for flowing from equity and ask them to make a reminder of this type of accommodation during the briefing. You should not need to specify why you need this accommodation – it could be a variety of physical or psychological experiences; it could also be related to medications. 

There is no standard for who to accommodate or how

  1. You don’t need a disability that is officially diagnosed – many people have shifting abilities identities; suddenly experience a disability; lack access to medical or diagnostic care; or cannot receive a diagnosis through their care 
  2. Frequently people with different abilities or disabilities do not have the type of direct and explicitly addressed access needs that equity considers 
  3. What you can do:
    1. Identify what makes a tournament difficult to access or participate in for you
    2. Are there solutions you use? Are there ways to expand those or implement them formally? 
    3. Are there specific actions some tournaments or events have taken that helped? Could they be applied here?

Motions & Arguments

Before the Tournament

You can flag to equity before the tournament that you have an identity that tends to be violently represented or that debate lacks education about; so that equity is more able to do research to be: more focussed in their briefing and inclusive; better able to identify and flag motions that may need a preround reminder; and a more effective actor at the tournament

At the Tournament

Identify to equity when a violation has occurred during the round through misrepresentation or violent representation of your identities. Some equity has specific policies about judges not crediting arguments premised on stereotyping of abilities, etc. The WUDC briefing for judges is also specific to such arguments being “unpersuasive” and also rendering other arguments in the speech “unpersuasive,” which many judges forget due to the simultaneous request to leave equity to equity and not address it as a judge. 


You don’t have to educate people. Many times equity will ask you to educate them, or to educate the other participants. That’s not your burden, and you can say no.

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