July 20, 2021
Enhancing Accessibility and Inclusion in K–12 Esports Programs
By adopting the right tools and following best practices, schools can make esports accessible to everyone.
In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed esports back to their roots. Competitive gaming was born not in school computer labs or elaborate esports arenas, but online. When they were forced into their homes by the coronavirus, many gamers were able to continue competing without missing a beat.
However, the pandemic also highlighted ongoing accessibility issues. For students with gaming consoles or PCs in their bedrooms, it was easy to bring esports home. But for those without ready access to top-of-the-line gaming gear, remote learning effectively cut them off from their teammates.
As schools and competitions begin to return to normal, it’s a good time to reiterate the importance of inclusion in esports. In particular, schools and teams can create an inclusive, accessible environment by making strategic investments in their competitive spaces, controllers and overall programs.
Spaces for Everyone
In theory, esports should be the sort of activity that attracts all types of students. After all, you don’t need to be a 6-foot-5 student to succeed on the digital playing field, and video games are popular across virtually all demographics among young people. Why, then, are so many esports teams made up primarily of white males?
It’s not because schools are intentionally excluding other students. Rather, they often become so focused on getting the program off the ground that they fail to take proactive steps to foster inclusion. If the first esports players at a given school are all white males, then programs might be unconsciously tailored to their preferences — and other students might think of esports as a space where they don’t belong. To include everyone, schools should seek out students from all backgrounds and also ask for their input on games and gaming platforms.
For students with physical disabilities, adaptive controllers are quite literally a game changer. The Xbox Adaptive Controller from Microsoft retails for less than $100, features large programmable buttons and works with an array of external assistive devices. One of these is the QuadStick, a controller for people with quadriplegia. The QuadStick features sip/puff sensors that allow users to control game play with their mouths and uses a mounting arm to position it in front of the user.
These controllers are a phenomenal boon for people with disabilities, and schools should leap at the chance to use them to increase access to their esports programs. Some students’ physical disabilities might prevent them from going out for football or joining the wrestling team, but esports is an area where schools can dramatically expand access and inclusion, and adaptive controllers are central to these efforts.
Multiple Points of Entry
Some students may be intimidated at first by the idea of participating in competitive esports tournaments. But there are other ways to get students involved. For instance, a more holistic esports program might allow students to take on marketing, IT or broadcasting roles. Then, as students begin to feel more comfortable around esports, some of them may transition into competitive roles. By creating these additional “points of entry” for students, schools can make their esports programs more welcoming — and also help students develop skills that will serve them during their careers.