Let’s keep building on all the accessibility stuff Microsoft is doing as part of Ability Summit 2022, shall we?
Today, the company is announcing that a new world to explore is coming in the educational wing of its Minecraft game.
BuildAbility is stylized in a way of titling with puns and without spaces, which is quite common in the world of accessibility for a reason I’ve never been able to pinpoint.
Anyways, BuildAbility is a new sever world that features three themed locals (school, gas station, mall) as well as a sandbox area for teachers to offer students challenges.
Each area presents students with a unique built environment that will highlight and inform on what those with physical disabilities experience on a daily basis.
Much like GADD and Microsoft’s Inclusive Tech Lab, BuildAbility has a Canadian connection. During the building of this world, Microsoft worked with a small group of educators from the Peel District School Board on this project. The staff members met weekly for a number of weeks to provide insight and help design the world of BuildAbility. In doing so, the finished product actively reflects the Peel community as they understand it.
The five barriers
Minecraft Education Edition’s main focus is the educate and inspire players to build and solve problems in the virtual world but then apply that knowledge to the real world.
In this case, the problems to solve are the five barriers to access: attitudinal barriers, information or communication barriers, organizational or systemic barriers, physical barriers, and technological barriers.
So much of overcoming barriers to access happens when we empathize with those with disability and understand how to do our part.
That’s why once students understand the five barriers, they are let free into the environments discussed above to meet various characters representative of the many people in our world who face one or more of the five accessibility barriers. Characters will ask students to build and re-build spaces to make them more accessible for all.
Completing these challenges will help them develop skills critical in thinking about the built environment. The built environment is a concept that is an umbrella of urban planning, architecture, landscape architecture, and civil engineering.
In terms of accessibility, solving problems in the built environment helps contribute to inclusive design, which is one of the key principles in accessible design.
Inclusive design is the process of creating to address the five barriers to access that end up benefiting all of us.
The greatest example of this is curb cuts and ramps. Using both in the built environment really took off in North America and Europe in the 1940s, after men returned from World War Two in wheelchairs and with other debilitating injuries. However, we quickly came to realize how they help mothers pushing strollers and those pushing trolleys and other wheeled devices.
Meeting these NPCs and assisting them should help teach students skills to meet those with barriers to access and help them where they are.
BuildAbility – Learning how to teach others
As mentioned above, BuildAbility was developed in partnership with the Peel District School Board (PDSB) here in Ontario. PDSB students and educators have been actively using Minecraft in their classrooms as a tool for engaging learning activities.
“We are proud to collaborate with Microsoft on BuildAbility as an introductory accessibility learning tool,” says Rusulan Q Hoppie, superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Peel District School Board. “PDSB, through our Multi-Year Accessibility Plan, is committed to eliminating as many obstacles as we can for persons with disabilities and providing an inclusive learning and working environment for our students, staff and communities. This initiative is a demonstration of that commitment. Our aim is to help students and educators understand the challenges faced by those with disabilities and to learn how they can advocate for and support people with disabilities.
Microsoft has already used what they’ve learned from the partnership to create the Educator Guide, providing educators-guided lessons and resources to support learning about accessibility barriers, as well as discussion prompts and inquiry questions that address accessibility and inclusion. It’s important to keep lessons about accessibility focused and informative but open to guided discussion, so the inclusion of the Educator Guide is essential.
Microsoft is also pointing out that it’s harder to teach and address neurodivergent, sensory (sight, smell, hearing) and mental health disabilities using Minecraft. But it’s worth mentioning that this program has great potential in coming up with ways to do it. For example, check out the video below.
Last year, Microsoft experimented with using Minecraft: Education Edition as a tool for inclusive hiring. In this case, they managed to use the game as a way to overcome barriers to access that involve neurodivergent and mental health disabilities. So it can be built!