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9. 1-AC: Accessibility in Speech and Debate

Marissa: Academic competitions are in many ways a complete and utter visual nightmare. Thinking on your feet and preparing speeches within a matter of minutes is hard enough as is. For me, not being able to read my own handwritten notes or the paper the opposing team was holding a foot away from me, made these tournaments even more challenging than they already were. When I participated in a high school mock trial, I remember that I would often be in courtrooms where the lights were so bright that they would give me headaches. After a few trials, I would memorize all of my speeches so people wouldn't have to see me stare closely at an index card or see me carry up 20 pieces of paper with size 72 font. These are only a fraction of the challenges disabled students experience in mock trial, speech and debate, and other academic competitions. However, the guest of today's episode made me realize that things don't have to be this way. On today's episode of Legally Blonde & Blind, Alanna Cronk and I will be discussing her new organization called 1-AC, which is dedicated to making speech and debate more accessible to its disabled participants. Stay tuned to learn more about how speech and debate as well as other academic competitions can improve their systems for accommodations and make the environment more welcoming to all students.

Also, I would like to give a brief content warning at certain points throughout this episode, we will be discussing instances of sexual assault as well as ableism and racism. If those are things you find triggering or do not want to hear about, then this may not be the episode for you. Thank you for listening and enjoy the episode.

*Intro Music*

Marissa: Welcome back to another episode of Legally Blonde & Blind. I am very excited to have this guest with me tonight. This is Alanna. And she is breaking Legally Blonde & Blind history because she is the first guest that is not legally blonde and or blind.

Alanna: Thank you for having me.

Marissa: You're still welcome. And we have a third guest in the room with us. Alana's ESA Twinkie, who unfortunately cannot add spoken contributions, but she is contributing vibes. So yeah, she is definitely pulling her weight emotionally, and performing her duties in that way, *Twinkie barks* Wow, she’s saying hello! That’s perfect timing!

Well, so I've posted on my social media accounts a few times about your organization, 1-ACcessibility, and all the work you are doing. But before we get into that, could you just introduce yourself, and talk a little bit about what you're studying, some of your interests, past projects, et cetera, right?

Alanna: Yes. I am Alanna. I am a student. I'm a rising junior in college at Georgetown, double majoring in philosophy English. And I go back and forth about adding disability studies as a minor. I take the classes anyway. It's just a matter of if I'm gonna formalize it on paper. And, in that way, I'm interested, obviously, in disability studies. I took a course with professor Lydia XC Brown, and they really inspired me. They're so passionate. And one of the biggest things I noticed in their classes is that they implement such wildly accessible practices. That on syllabus day, I literally started crying because I was like, This is so much of a better environment for me. And that's when I'd be, that was the very beginning of what I became conscious of disability in a more theoretical, critical sense and the power of accessibility.

My interests include beyond that different philosophical things, super into religion and doggies and nature. And I just started kayaking.

Marissa: Yes. We went kayaking two weeks ago and that actually went well. I didn't fall in really well. I'll take that as an accomplishment.

Alanna: Yeah. And things I've done include humanities research, which is a big reason why I transferred to Georgetown. I wanted to be able to do more research and independent academic projects. So my first one was an ethnographic study, like a real formal one with IRB approval and everything about street harassment and catcalling. That one was called, “Hey, beautiful! Calling out catcalling culture!” And that cumulated in like a 30-page paper, 20-page magazine, and a poster. And I presented it at a bunch of conferences. The second project I've done was called “Logic in Wonderland,” and I examined symbolic logic in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Marissa: You should plug your website.

Alanna: Oh yeah. And then you should totally visit my website,, where you can get copies of my work. And I have a few other projects, but those are the two main ones that come to mind that are not one accessibility.

Marissa: Alrighty. And before we get into one accessibility, I know this is going to be challenging for you because I still don't understand speech and debate after knowing you for a few weeks, but could you give an elevator pitch of speech and debate.

Alanna: First of all, it's weird. It's its own little world. I guess that is the same as all other little interests, but the way the world functions in speech and debate is very different from the real world. I'll give that as a precursor. To explain it as simply as possible, speech and debate are extracurricular academic activities for students that are based on academic discourse and argumentation. And the core of it is expressing oneself through speeches. Speech and debate are a little bit separate, but they happen at the same tournament.

Speech or individual events is a series of usually 10-minute long speeches that take several different formats, such as original oratory, humorous interpretation, dramatic interpretation, and so on where there are different either self-written or adapted, published, works that kids, you know, do and perform. With debate, it's different styles of debate either one-on-one or two-on-two, and that range in different lengths about different policy topics. And these include things like Lincoln Douglas debate, policy debate, parliamentary debate, and public forum debate, and they just introduced big questions. And the longest oldest hardest form of debate there is called policy. And that involves trademarks of something called spreading, which is an extremely inhumane speed of speaking that is like, you know, Eminem’s “Rap God” that one verse that's famous for being very fast. It's faster than that. And it's two hours of debate at that speed.

Marissa: You should play the video. Yeah. So this is a video I have permission to share from my friend. Her name is Andrea Chow. Shout out to her. She'll be going to Yale in the fall. She's a genius. I love her. This is a very short video of her spreading a case. Cases are the things you present in debate, that's like your series of arguments. This is her spreading, you know, speed reading lyrics to a song and it's, it's going to be indistinguishable. And that's the point is you cannot understand spreading, but this is how people are talking.

Marissa: Yeah. And even if the audio quality was perfect, you wouldn't be able to understand.

Alanna: Yeah. it gets faster. Like no shade to Andrea, but it gets faster than that. And that's obviously like a very obvious barrier to entry for this activity, but there are 10 billion other ones.

Marissa: Yeah. So how did you get involved in speech and debate?

Alanna: Right. So I was in the eighth grade. And my middle school surprisingly had a speech team. This speech team was a closed circuit. It was not affiliated with the national speech and debate association, which 99% of speech things are. And we were the last public school in the league, which tells you a little bit something about the privilege that goes into speech and debate. And we competed against all private schools and it was just speech. There was no debate and speeches were five minutes instead of 10. And that year we had, I believe it was five tournaments in which you're allowed to enter into two events, things like storytelling, sight-reading, humorous dramatic interp, duo, expository speaking, poetry, things like that.

And so I entered the maximum number of events at every tournament and I never placed lower than second place. And the whole season, which was quite a record to have. And I loved it. I fell in love with it. I spent most of my free time working on speeches and just learning about it and kind of dreaming of going to nationals. And I knew that that was something I needed to do in high school. And so, unfortunately, most public schools don't have programs anymore. And I looked online for all the high schools in my area. And the only one that had a team was this private, all-girls Catholic school. And I did not think about the ramifications of what that would do to me emotionally, going to a Catholic, all-girls school.

Marissa: You don’t belong in an all-girls Catholic school.

Alanna: And I was just like, it was just like tunnel vision. And I love speech and debate so much. I was like, well, they have a program. They're the only school within driving distance that has a program. So that's where I need to go. And I did all the necessary entrance exams and they gave us quite a generous financial aid package. And from there, I started my freshman year and I wanted only to do speech. And then I saw debate was a thing, and I was like, “this is super cool.” And I had my own little political revolution in my brain that most 14-year-olds do. I grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical, very hyper-conservative, um, sect of Christianity that made me believe some really, um, harmful things. And I was exposed to philosophy and ethics in a systematic organized study for the first time. And I just loved it a lot. And I fell in love with debate that year. And I did really well. I went into varsity public forum debate at my very first tournament ever in high school. And we did very, very well. We went for two meaning four wins and two losses, which is an excellent record. For your very first tournament. And, from then on, I just competed in a mix until I quit my junior year.

Marissa: Gotcha. And clearly, from what you just said, you can tell that speech and debate has a lot of benefits to high school students ranging from improving public speaking and communication skills to exposing you to different ideas and helping you develop argumentation skills, but there also are some problematic aspects of speech and debate. So would you like to go into that a bit? Like what kinds of things did you notice throughout speech and debate that were problematic? Like, do you have any horror stories?

Alanna: Yeah, I do. Before I get into this, I, I will say that of a bit of a word of warning that what I'm about to say has, you know, very like instances of violence, sexual harm, that sort of a thing. So if that's upsetting, maybe this isn't the section to listen to. But I don't even know where to begin truthfully, because so much I have witnessed and experienced so much harm within this activity. It is wild. I think fundamentally a lot of what it comes down to is lack of supervision. It's an activity that has very little oversight and particularly in the way that tournaments manifest. There isn't a lot of oversight. Like you're just taking kids, they travel all across the country, sticking them in hotels and college campuses. And their coaches retreat to a place called tab room, which is where the tournament is run and where they're not allowed to enter. With zero supervision, a lot of terrible stuff happens.

Marissa: So you're not having any contact with your chaperones the whole time, 'cause they're just in this other room.

Alanna: It depends. Like there are, there are tournaments where I did not see my coach. And there were some times where sometimes a parent would hang out and you could maybe say “hey,” which I think is unacceptable. And that was my school's vibe. Some schools were bigger and had more resources and had team parents and others were like us. So that totally didn't help anything. And kids would show up to a tournament alone.

I have a few stories I wrote down. There's a list. I have a list. These are, um, the sad thing is though these stories, I'm about to tell do not encompass even a fraction of all of the problems that exist in speech and debate.

Anyways, the first story I like to tell doesn’t have so much about a disability, but it'll give you an idea of the kind of tomfoolery that happens. So, I was a freshman competing in the policy. And I went up against these varsity kids. I was supposed to be a novice, but there weren't enough novice kids to keep the category going. So they collapsed it. So I had to go up against more experienced kids. And I came from a very small school, which means we had a very small ability to generate prep. That's a kind of term meaning we did not have everything in speech and debate manifests or in debate, manifests in what are called cards. These are very specifically formatted pieces of evidence. So if you want them to make any argument around, you basically need this card to say it. And so a lot of teams have decades of back files they can tap into, and then they have 30, 40 people cutting cards. And my team had me. And so going into this round, I was at such a disadvantage and I didn't know, there's so much lingo. There are so many technical things that go into policy debate.

Marissa: I cannot imagine entering speech and debate. It's confusing to me. And this is like an environment without any pressure.

Alanna: Yeah. My coaches, a lot of the time, said “It's your trial by fire.” Anytime I tried to ask how things work, they go, “it's a trial by fire. You will figure it out and you have to.” I'll get to the story in one second. But another fundamental problem is there are these camps that run that are thousands and thousands of dollars that you have to attend to be competitively viable. And if you don't go, you will never figure out how this activity truly fundamentally works, which is a problem for low-income students.

Anyway, I'm in here not knowing what the heck is happening. I'm just here with a passionate enthusiasm for discourse and they ran in. The affirmative gets to speak first and kind of sets the tone for what's talked about and their case right there. Our set of arguments basically came down to something surrounding native American blood quantum. I don't even remember all the specifics. I just remember they read a pain narrative, a woman, one woman's like, narrative style writing of her deep trauma surrounding some barrier to entry that involved blood quantum, which is a very complicated issue in its own right. For the indigenous community that causes a lot of like gatekeeping to resources because they say your blood quantum is not high enough. And I am indigenous. I am part of the Chumash Native Americans in Southern California.

And so here I have a team of two white boys. And they are running this native pain narrative, affirmative case against me, and as a native person that hurt to be knowing I would be losing at this activity that I didn't really truly understand because it's so complicated against something that affects me directly, but that didn't feel good at all.

So I ran what's called a K or a critique against it called speaking for others. K. Basically saying it's inappropriate for you to be saying these kinds of arguments when you don't belong to these communities, you don't know what you're talking about. But I didn't have quite all the tools to do that argument with finesse. And so it devolved into me just kind of talking, like not doing it the technical way it should be going down. And at one point I said the word “pow-wows” because I grew up going to pow-wows. It's just a thing I did. And I said something to the effect of you're tokenizing this woman's deeply traumatic narrative. You know, this one woman's experience, you're trying to say that she embodies the entire variety and variation of all indigenous people in this country, which is offensive. I said, you know, nothing you showed me anything that this was the product of like a pow-wow or any kind of consensus reached. And I noticed when I said the word pow wow, the tension in the room was like, feel about palpable. And they, it devolved into them calling me racist for saying like, oh yeah, Indians have pow wows or whatever from like, but I had said multiple times, you know, I'm indigenous myself. And to me, the pow-wow is just the word for a meeting of native people. To them, It sounded like a racist white girl, And I got assigned twenty-five speaker points, which is, or maybe it was 26, basically, that's like an insult and a punishment. It's if you were to get a 25 or 26, that record is public. And it's like you said something that was very harmful.

Marissa: It’s like decorum points. Like how polite you were together with the other team and if you said anything inappropriate.

Alanna: Yeah. A little bit. It also has to do with like your speaking style.

Marissa: And so getting that low of a score is like, what is it out of 30?

Alanna: So in the range of 25 to 30 and you never assigned 25 or 26, unless there was a problem. Like someone said something terribly horrible. I'm like, okay, starts at 27. That's still kind of offensive. And then like 28 is good. 29 is great. And 30 is like perfection. Amazing. And you can assign them points as well, of course. Cause that would, you know, it'd be too easy if we only call numbers.

So that gives you the idea of like some of the Tom Foolery, the silliness, you know, I already told you the other week I was judging the national speech and debate tournament, the national nationals, I was judging nationals and I got this impromptu round. The way impromptu works is you have, you're given a noun or topic, a quote or something, you know, the topic could be, joy, it could be fairies. It could be a quote, you know, and then you have two minutes to prepare a speech. Usually in like five-paragraph essay style, kind of like here's my point, impact resolution or whatever. And, it's a five-minute speech. So I was judging this impromptu round and the topic this kid got was integrity. If you had to think of a few things, a few points to point to about integrity, Marissa, what would you say?

You know, I would talk about great leaders, you know, not who this kid brought up. The worst possible person you would associate with integrity. Right? So this kid starts the very first sentence of his speech with “Adolf Hitler had integrity” and, and went on.

Marissa: You sent me that speech when I was tired and I read it when I was half asleep, I just woke up and it was like, “Adolf Hitler was a great world leader”

Alanna: And one of his main points was he was pointing to and he, and then he went on, he was like, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Joan of Arc, Winston Churchill are all great leaders and it's because of their integrity. And one of his whole points is that Hitler could only achieve his vision for Germany through his integrity and his commitment to his vision. And he just goes on aggrandizing Hitler. Those are the kinds of things that happen very, very often in tournaments.

Marissa: So basically what you're saying is that you have people coming from these extremely privileged backgrounds, and they're not really getting the perspectives of people who are lower-income or who are part of like indigenous groups or communities of color. And then that's where you start getting these kinds of ignorant comments and behaviors from, and then I guess, more to move on to like the accessibility, right. So, what kinds of accommodations did you receive, like when you did speech and debate?

Alanna: So none. For a piece of context, I have a bunch of accommodations at Georgetown. I have 1.5 times extended time on exams. I have an alternative test day. I have extra absences. I have, quiet, like I get to take my tests in a separate room that is free of distractions. Things like that. And there is not a single formal process for requesting accommodations in speech and debate. And you have to understand that, especially in debate. There's very limited prep time, right? It's in two hours and you have a couple of minutes to prepare these long, very technical, speeches. And sometimes if you're like me and have something, anything cognitive going on, really, it doesn't even have to be ADHD like me. It could really just be anything because these environments are so high-stress, it's very easy, easy, and reasonable to need a couple of extra minutes. And they don't provide that. There is no, there's kind of, I've seen on tournament invitations. Sometimes they'll have a little note about, “you could email the tournament director and if you need to have any access needs and, you know, try to work something out.” But that's just not the same as having a formal system for requesting, approving, and implementing accommodations.

Kids in the K through 12 education system are taught to be compliant and to not ask to take up any extra space and to just go along with the rules, you know what I mean? Because they often think that asking for accommodations makes them somehow a burden. And I feel like in a lot of people's minds before they, you know, grow into themselves, sometimes they won't embrace the word disabled or understand that they might have access needs until a little bit later they might need, you might think, “oh, let me just tough it out.” But when you have this culture that basically leaves accommodations as, if anything, the tail end of the tournament invitation, like this really small font, it's not going to encourage people to seek help, or it's not going to tell people what's possibly available to them.

And, as a result of that, you know, there's a million different reasons you could need accommodations, not just extended prep. I mean, there's a reason we don't really see a lot of kids who have a lot of different kinds of disabilities in this activity because of tournaments' unwillingness to include disabled people in their competitions. I've never seen an ASL interpreter at a tournament and I've been to a billion of them. I've never seen a kid who uses mobility aids at a tournament again. Cause like, I would imagine you try this activity, it's super hostile and unwelcoming and you go, “ah, this isn’t for me,” which I had to do later, which I guess we'll get to at some point.

Marissa: I remember you said too, there was only like a few minutes to get between rounds. A lot of the places weren't even wheelchair accessible. Right.?

Alanna: And I feel like that should be an accommodation, right? To have your rounds in a ground-level room. I feel like that's a very reasonable accommodation, more time between rounds, even if you're like everyone just has to go to the bathroom occasionally or grab a drink or get a snack. Passing out electronic communications of room assignments would be a great thing. A lot of times. Postings, which come from the word of the verb to post, right. They would post a piece of printer paper with everyone's room assignments. And then there is this, like, what do I call it? Like just a ginormous gathering of people around this one piece of paper, people shoving each other off, just trying to take a picture and like a runaway,

Marissa: It sounds like hell to me.

Alanna: And so like, you know, there's a million different reasons somebody would want to prefer electronic communications, whereas it's like font adoptions, or maybe like dyslexia font, what's it called extensions on Chrome or there's a million different assistive technology that people use on their devices that like, There's no way to request, “can I get all of my communication electronically?” There are just a million different little accommodations that could make the activity so much more equitable. And they just don't exist.

And I've even heard through my organization, that when we call for feedback, I've heard stories of people asking, even when they do reach out, which makes the barrier to getting the accommodation a little higher. Cause who's going to reach out and like have the language to say, like, “I need this accommodation” when, I mean, some people might obviously, but a lot of people won't and I've heard of people even going and making that extra step to reach out to tournament directors and then getting denied, leaving, like, you know, “I dunno, I don't think you really need that,” which at the end of the day, isn't really anybody's place to say, I don't think you need this accommodation. I think people are perfectly fine in determining what they need for themselves.

Marissa: And I think that's the shame too, with any kind of, not just speech and debate, but any kind of academic activity and like standardized tests as well. We saw this too with the varsity blues scandal. People are so quick to deny accommodations just because they assume everyone's trying to take advantage of it. But what's really a shame is like for every, you know, for every person who does take advantage of it, there are dozens of disabled students that actually do need these things and they are all missing out because of a few people.

Alanna: And honestly, this might be a bit of a radical approach and you don't have to agree with me on this, but I feel like I would rather not ask for medical documentation or verification, just let people have what they want. And if somebody cheats, like, if it's better for like the massive disabled people who need the accommodations, I don't care all that much that maybe one or two kids are trying to cheat the system. If you feel that you need to cheat, you probably won't make it to the highest levels of competition. Anyways, it takes so much determination, so much work, so much from your soul to do well in these things. I don't think that if you asked for an extra two minutes of prep time, that would be the thing that sets you over. Like, if you're not willing to do the work and take the easy way out, it's not going to work for you in the long run. Like what use could, how could somebody get a competitive edge by asking for their rounds to be held in a ground-level room? I don't think there could be. So, you know, I feel like we should just give people accommodations. And that's why at my tournament, I'm having every single person,

Oh, by the way, my organization is hosting a tournament with all. Well, I can't say all because it's online and most happen in person. So, but most of the accessible practices that we think should be implemented, we're hosting a tournament with them.

Marissa: Yeah, that's great. So I wanted to get into a bit more detail about the specific policy changes you guys want to see done. Firstly, can you explain to people the name?

Alanna: Right. So the name is a pun. That’s why I call it 1-AC because that’s where the debate pun lives. Where do I start with it? So in debate the names, there are names for speeches. I'll just say them and I'll explain them in like a second. There's the first affirmative constructive. Then the first negative constructive than the second affirmative constructive. It goes on and on and on until you get to like rebuttals going back and forth. So they're abbreviated into the one 1- AC the 1-NC, the 2-AC the 2-NC whatever. And across all debates, there is a 1-AC and it just stands for the first speech of the round that sets the tone for what the heck you're going to talk about. It lays out what is going to be dealt with in the round. It's called the 1-AC. And so I noticed the word accessibility starts with AC and I was like, “oh my God, this is so exciting.”

Marissa: I love it, as I'm sure people know, I love puns.

Alanna: So I put 1-AC and then there's a dash and then the rest of the word accessibility. So when you look at it and if you do debate, the pun makes sense. It's hard to communicate orally. That's why I shorten it usually to 1-AC but if I'm going to say the whole thing, I say one accessibility. So what 1-ACcessibility is, is the most painless way to say it.

Marissa: So firstly, I know one of the biggest changes your organization would like to make is making a more formal system for requesting accommodations because as you were talking about earlier, it's inconsistent at best. So, what specific types of improvements would you like to see?

Alanna: Yeah, so I think that the national speech and debate organization that most competitions run through, they have a website called Tabroom, which is the name of a physical place at a tournament where the tournament is run from. And so the website is basically where all the online stuff gets dealt with. That's where you registered. that's where you see, you can see your online, where you're supposed to go. It's where it's where you get a lot of information for the tournament. You have to be using TabRoom to do the tournament. And a lot of ballots the way you decide if somebody wins or loses and reports that to the tournament, that's run on Tabroom.

I think that Tab Room itself should implement a way for kids to request accommodations and then notify their judges. So the judge can know like this kid, so, you know, systematically, this kid has been approved for extra time for whatever the heck, maybe it's extra speech time because they have an alternative method of communicating, maybe with an AAC device, you know, whatever the accommodation is. Because sometimes judges need to know so that they can not bother kids about it. And facilitate and protect a combination of things being executed. And so I think that is one of the biggest ones that the software is that these tournaments are run on. There's another one called Joy of tournaments, another one called SpeechWire, but Tabroom is the biggest one. They should have a way to formally process these things and not just kind of be, “oh yeah.” They should, you know, make a Google form.

And that's exactly what I did actually. So for my tournament that I'm running, we have something called the participant form that we're having every single participant, fill out with things like their name, if they want to share their pronouns, their name pronunciation, if they were to win an award, you wouldn't want to mess that up, contact information, parent contact information. And then on the second page, every single person has to go through and look at what accommodations might be possible. So that way they can take a moment to contemplate, like, “do I think this would, you know, really help me for whatever my needs are?”

Marissa: I think that's really important too. A lot of people just don't know what accommodations are out there, or you might not think it's possible to do that in this activity. And when they aren't available for you to see, you might just go, “oh, well, I'm not going to do speech and debate. This seems too hard.”

Alanna: Right. And I remember showing up to my very first, you know, section 504 is what allows for accommodations in public schools. And I remember showing up to my first 504 meetings, cause I never had accommodations before. I just knew I was suffering and unhappy. And they asked, what do you want? And I was like, what can I have? I thought of as many things that would apply. I could think of many more, you know, in person, but I'm just, cause I haven't really competed online, but I thought of as many as I could and I had them as boxes of, you know, do you want this? And I made it very clear. We're not asking for any medical documentation of anything. You know, it's really just like a need. And I have a little box that just says I affirmed I have access needs and I'm not doing this to cheat. That's really it, you just click it and, or you can describe whatever accommodation that you think you want. I'm really not even having them do that weird little justification why you need like, beg for it. It's, you know, uh, it sounds like pretty much any kind of coverage documentation. I just feel like if you're asking for extra time, you probably have difficulty focusing and I can put the thoughts together myself. I don't really need to hear you beg.

So yeah, I think a formalized system for requesting, approving, and implementing accommodations is important because when it's formalized to when it's not, you have to approach somebody and have a conversation. And when it can be done through a form, that makes it easier to deal with. It doesn’t have to be like, ‘“hi, I'm sorry for asking.” But, you know, especially really for people that have some form of social anxiety or it can be terrifying to send that email.

Marissa: Yeah. And so I think that it should be formal, so kids know, oh, this is the thing I'm allowed to ask for. It's not like a weird under-the-table thing.

Alanna: And then when it's formally approved, kids can know, okay, I have this and potentially could, it could, if it was on Tabroom, it could be attached to their profile and just travel with them from tournament to tournament. I think the thing about making the accommodations more publicly available is that it, I think it helps. I think it helps disprove the notion that accommodations are somehow some sort of advantage or that if someone's getting extra time during the debate they are cheating or that they have an unfair advantage over other people. And like I said before, like, I don't think 2, 3, 4 extra minutes of prep would really change for somebody who didn't really need it. It wouldn't really make a difference, but for somebody like me, you know, Being freaked the hell out that I just saw, I had like 30 seconds to prepare an eight-minute highly technical speech arguing about whatever the heck the topic was, you know, but like if I had known, I had a couple of extra minutes and that they're aware I had access needs around time, you know, I could have made me relaxed. And I would've had a much better time, uh, within the activity.

Marissa: That completely makes sense. And do you have any other structural changes in mind?

Alanna: Oh, there's a million. I'll try to go to them quickly. I already touched on one of them. Time in general I think needs to be conceived of more flexibly. There's a rule that I believe it's 10 or 15 minutes. If you're 10 or 15, I think it's 15 minutes late to a round, you're automatically supposed to be disqualified. And that is just silly. There are a million different reasons somebody could be late. I’m just thinking off the top of my head, if somebody had something with mobility, it might be difficult to find, like, find the, you know, where the elevator is.

Marissa: I would be so terrified of getting lost and not being able to find the room in time. And then you get fined. If you leave the competition, which we'll get to. Like they give you a map of the school and they're so hard to figure out it's just these very abstract boxes drawn with tiny little fonts like, oh, this is this building. And you have to figure out what the heck all the abbreviations mean. So finding a room on time, if you have absolutely no access needs in the world of mobility or whatever is still almost impossible. If you have access needs, getting on time would just be unfeasible potentially. You could have a flare-up if you had some sort of digestive or whatever thing, you need to go to the bathroom to deal with it.

Marissa: God forbid you needed to go to the bathroom in between. I mean, people have to do that. You are little robots that go to debate camp and also spend all day - what was it? You called it cutting cards, So, you could be late to around for a million different reasons.

Alanna: Also, you might need extra prep time and even if you didn't get an accommodation, who cares if you ask for it, need another 30 seconds of speech time? If you have an alternative form of communication, perhaps you need a translator cause you feel more comfortable signing. Perhaps you use alternative augmentative communication devices that have, you know, a mechanical voice speaking for you. Maybe, you know, I'm sure there are other alternative forms of communication that maybe you need extended speech time. So maybe what other people can say in five minutes, maybe you need 10. Maybe you need 15. Maybe you need seven. Who knows? Everything is about time or maybe also in the middle of a round have a break. Sometimes you just need to get out, you know what I mean? Or if you needed a five-minute breather for whatever the heck reason, a million different things can happen with the body and mind.

Marissa: It's like what you're saying, in general, is this just a very high-stress environment with no forgiveness from any party whatsoever.

Alanna: I remember I've been harassed by judges when I was just trying to go up to the front of the room and get my papers in order. They'd be like, “Hey, you're taking up your prep time.” Like you need to start your speech now. And it's like, I took two seconds to like, get my papers in order really. So time needs to be conceived of more flexibly.

And that's just the difference between, I feel like everything, in general, should be designed as universally as possible for access and then implement accommodations, when it's just not feasible for everybody. Right. Because, you know, bringing it back to time, it's just a really easy thing to talk about, you know, you do need proportionally more, if you have problems focusing. So maybe time can't be unlimited for everybody.

Marissa: Because you guys would talk for an hour if given the opportunity.

Alanna: Right. So accommodations, when it can't be for everybody, and also accommodations are really sustainable forms of like, “oh, I didn't know that this was an access need.” Let me, let me think about it. Cause now you're, I'm giving you the space to tell me what you need. But I think time needs to be conceived more flexibly. So that just everybody who, you know, maybe they didn't go through the formal process of requesting an accommodation, can just everybody benefit from accessibility.

Another thing is incident reporting, like where I was saying before, some really nasty things can be said to you, um, in rounds that are extremely racist. I've heard of slurs being thrown around. You can hear extremely homophobic, like whatever, it's everything like every form of discrimination I have heard of it happening. I've also heard of, unfortunately, there's a huge sexual assault problem at tournaments. I'll shout out Speaking up Safely and Speech and Debate stories. They are two organizations that do a lot with specifically addressing sexual assault in speech and debate because there's a lot of it. Again this, like unsupervised children in a new location for a weekend, is just not great for being alone in a room with very few people. And, you know, coaches can act inappropriately. I have heard and been exposed to pedophilic coaches in the past, and there's not a great way to report it. I've seen it getting a little bit better. Occasionally you'll see an incident reporting form, but the biggest problem is kids are not allowed to enter the tab room, where all the adults are.

Marissa: Because it's for fairness reasons, right? Maybe you might try to cheat or I don't know what they think, bribe a judge or something.

Alanna: Yeah. Something like that. So kids are not allowed to enter the Tab Room for any reason. I've seen kids being yelled at before for entering the Tab Room.

Marissa: And so how are you supposed to report incidents?

Alanna: Right! Like you're supposed to get help if all of the adults are shuttered in this room, you can't even get it. I'll give a quick recap of, you know, I won the state championship in California when I was a sophomore. And I came back my junior year at a tournament in Long Beach called Jack Howe. And I was not having a good time at all. My mental health was terrible during that time of my life. I was experiencing hallucinations, vomiting, dizziness, like so many symptoms and then just not well, and I was not completely memorized because memorizing a 10-minute speech takes great cognitive strength and, I messed up my first round and there's this very hyper-competitive culture where kids will very openly demean each other, like, “oh, she was terrible.” And they'll go tell their whole team how terrible somebody was. I freaked out and I had nowhere to go for support because I'm not allowed to enter the tab room. And that's where all my coaches and, you know, adults are. So I just found the most remote little bathroom I could and laid down on the public bathroom floor and had a panic attack crying on the ground.

And it was terrible. And then I dealt with nuisance fees and, we'll get to that in a second. But like that's an example of, you know, sometimes you have needs for whatever reason. Sometimes, you know, people are not kind to people with disabilities or not. Maybe it's not people just, sometimes things are not structured well. And you need support and help. Or maybe you need to report an incident or let somebody know I'm not doing well, or maybe somebody was unfair or caused you harm and you needed to tell somebody and there's just no real good way. Like you could only see them at some places.

Marissa: And you said there are some forms but that they are inconsistent, right? Similarly, with the accommodations, there should be, you should know how to report it. And it shouldn't be something that's under the table.

Alanna: Yeah. It, yeah, it should be in the software for the tournament where everybody knows how to access that everybody should know how to report a tournament and, or report an incident. And it should be the same, you know, I didn't show up to my round two cause I was busy crying on the floor, having a panic attack. And no, not a single person checked on me, not a single tournament official, no one reached out to me. And that's terrifying that a child wouldn't unaccounted for. These are.

And also I don't want to focus too much on disability cause this is a very intersectional issue where there's also a lot of violence that happens at the tournaments. You know, if you've just experienced this incredibly traumatic thing, how are you supposed to, you know, the second you enter the Tab Room, someone's gonna yell at you. That’s not something you need. And then you have to get your two, your round and five minutes. So like you can't even process what traumatic thing just happened to you.

And well, I guess we could talk about the scheduling cause brought up a few times. A lot of times schedules do not, again, this is the thing where it's like one or two tournaments might get it. But the majority don't, um, there aren't breaks or times to eat built into most tournaments. And so I've been at tournaments where it was just round after round, after round. I get out of the round and my other one has already supposed to have started and I'm running to where I'm supposed to go. I had rounds where I did not eat like a single thing for almost a whole day.

Marissa: You should tell them about the food that's available at speech and debate tournaments.

Alanna: We’ll get to the food in two seconds. Cause that's ridiculous as well. And again like around disability, A lot of disabled people can't come as a whole point. You can't command your body to like to do it, you know, just be a certain way. And sometimes you need to administer yourself medication. Sometimes you're having a flare-up. Sometimes you can't do it. Sometimes you mentally need to reset. Sometimes you need to eat because of whatever disability, there are a billion different reasons why it's unhealthy and unsustainable to just be like, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go the whole time.

And you know, I was designing my schedule and it took a little finessing, but, we have, I believe it's three hours, something like that. We have a lot of space in between our rounds to make sure that, um, even though it's online, you'll have a moment to not care about this tournament. When you're done, you’ll have a moment to take a few deep breaths, get some water, and take a walk. All those things are extremely important. It seems like debate is like the current system doesn't really emphasize those things nearly enough.

And the food is the other thing that is funny. No, it's not funny, but it's so bad that it’s funny. As I was setting up my tournament, I was reading their materials for, oh, so you want to become a coach, so you want to start a team. So you want to host a tournament and their official guide for how to host a tournament when it comes to food. I think I have at the screenshot somewhere, I'll pull it up in one second, but they recommend the tr like the NSDA recommends the food that is provided at tournaments is pizza. There are so many people that can't eat pizza. There are a million different reasons why somebody would need different food, celiac disease, lactose intolerance.

Marissa: I have never mentioned that on the podcast. I actually do have celiac disease.

Alanna: Yeah. All those different things. And also for religious reasons. Like most of those things, especially religious accommodations too. I'll read the section from one of them. It was like a checklist of what you should do in the days leading up to the tournament. So it said Thursday instructs you to quote, order pizza for Saturday delivery, and then in parentheses or whatever food you're ordering to sell. And then also it says, you know, things you should plan for. It says food plan. My team members were assigned particular items to bring on tournament day. And these could be three 12 packs of Sprite or two dozen homemade brownies. Our food parents always had people take care of certain big items, a giant sub cut into small sections for lunch, pots of soup or chili, et cetera. We also took care to assign food to everyone, but to give very little for a free and reduced lunch kids to bring that way they weren't burdened to, but still participated in the items we included. We sold everything in the cafeteria, everything, but the pizza, uh, many kids were assigned to bring water or candy bars, but this made it easy.

So you can see that there is a reference to pizza in every single tournament. And I have been at tournaments where the only food was pizza, most tournaments, the only food is pizza or candy bars. And that doesn't work with so many people's dietary restrictions. And I'm going to say this, but I'll, I'm going to put a caveat on it. It would be so easy to just go to the grocery store with $60, $70 and buy gluten-free bars to buy a couple, you know, apples or whatever at Costco to buy whatever, you know, and whatever dietary section that they have to just take a couple of boxes of whatever to make sure there's something. But even that is not enough because you need to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you don't even have enough time to do that. And I, you know, it's not uncommon. Well, I'll say it's mediumly common to stay at a tournament until night. I think the latest tournament was maybe 2:00 AM once. So it's not just lunch. It’s also dinner. You need to plan for, and you can't sustain on like breakfast bars, you know? So I think there needs to be, and it's something that's, you know, a little bit hard. Cause maybe you don't have a lot of the resources, but I think this is something that tournaments have the duty to take a moment to say, “oh, we need to plan for this.”

And it's unacceptable not to take a moment to plan for this. And it might be a hard thing to deal with, but it ensures that all types of people can eat at this tournament healthy. I've heard of, you know, I won't tell anybody's story that's on my own, but I can just tell you that I have heard of so many of my fellow speech and debate people having significant problems with this, like when you can't eat for an entire day, will you be able to perform by the end? Not really. You know, it causes problems for people in a very significant way. What else do I want to talk about? Nuisance fees? Yes. That's the one thing I wanted to talk about before we move on to the more cultural aspects of it.

Marissa: Right. So explain nuisance fees. You, you sort of alluded to it.

Alanna; Yeah. So, let's talk about the word for a second nuisance fee. It's clear. They don't like whoever needs to receive one. And I think nuisance is such a harsh word. So basically they're designed to. If at a certain point in a tournament in preliminary rounds before breakout rounds, you might be able to decide or figure out that you're not doing well and you're not going to make it to elimination rounds. Usually, the standard in debate is to win four rounds and to only lose two, going forward two is what it's called. Maybe you went three, three, and you know, you're not going to break, or maybe you lost all your rounds. They want to prevent people from leaving the tournament early. The same thing goes with speech. Maybe if you just like totally messed up, you know, maybe you'll leave the tournament is what they think will happen. And so they'll fine you, it varies per tournament. I've seen them for a couple hundred dollars. It could be less, but you know, whatever the cost is, it really varies. It's meant to be a deterrent to leaving the tournament early.

However, they don't like to make it, they might, I guess, again, this might be a thing it's like, oh, no excused absences, but I've never heard of somebody getting an exemption for money. There are a million reasons why somebody who's disabled may need to leave a tournament, you know, medical emergencies happen. They will still find you for leaving the tournament.

Marissa: You said you knew people who went to the ER and they still were fined.

Alanna: Yeah. They were still, they were still fined. I, you know, I knew someone very, very, very, very high up in the debate world who was in the ER and they were still fined. Um, you know, 'cause the tournament wanted to make an example of them. Like you can't leave and not, and not, not face the consequences.

Marissa: Yeah. Which is ridiculous. There are a billion different reasons that could occur why somebody needs to leave. And especially when you're having a medical emergency,

Alanna; You know, people do speech and debate because they love speech and debate. And I've only heard once in my whole career of somebody talking about wanting to leave a tournament, cause they didn't think they were doing well. Like people do this, not to be winners, you know, going in, there's only a fraction, a small fraction of people walk away with trophies. Like you do this because you love it. Yeah. People go because it's, you know, the parts that aren't not bad are fun. You know?

Like I feel kinda bad because we're only focusing on the bad parts. You know, it can be a wonderful activity that I made a lot of friends in and it, you learn so much just sitting in rounds when you're just even spectating or listening to other people's speeches. It's, it's wonderful to see what people have to say. I learned, you know, in my sitting in my original oratory rounds, I learned about everything from the cost of inhalers being too high to black experiences to the myth of the model minority to some guy talking about practicing ethical non-monogamy. You learn about so many really interesting, separate topics. People are passionate about one thing they picked a specific topic to speak about. I remember going to, you know, after, after I had lost around, it's very common for kids to be sent to when you don't break into elimination rounds to be sent, to go watch the people who did, who were good to go learn it.

I remember going to this one girl, she did feminist rage or something. And so she was doing like a performance affirmative case where she was like screaming and yelling about feminism and like a very performative and really cool, like in a performance type way. And that was just amazing to watch. So it's actually the opposite when kids lose, oftentimes they stay to watch the other, they stay to learn. They love it so much. I don't even think they're necessary in the first place, but, it literally fines and punishes disability when people do need to leave for reasons related to disability.

Marissa: Yeah. Which is really, and I think all of these specific policy changes that you're bringing up right now, allude to the very hyper-competitive culture of debate. There's not enough emphasis on caring for your physical, mental, and emotional health during these tournaments, there's no emphasis actually on caring for anything about yourself.

Alanna: It's very much, my friend calls it grind culture, where it's just about work, work, work, get those trophies, like be the best and constantly card, stay up all night. People really will stay up all night cutting cards. People get no rest in between day one to day three of tournaments. I mean truly hurt their bodies in the process of nobody. I never went to school on Monday or Tuesday after a tournament and was like, I feel great. You always come back feeling completely exhausted because it truly is. It's harmful to your body to go through this and to be so stressed and hyper-focused for such a long period of time, and a cultural kind of thing that we want to see shifts that aren't necessarily the duty of organizations.

Although if they cared about it, they could certainly come up with ways to help. There is a culture of casually demeaning your opponents and it's terrible in debate. It manifests in very common statements of this is the sentence I hear all the time, which is “my opponent clearly doesn't know what they're talking about.” That is. So often I'm not even saying like, oh, that happened once or twice. I hear that nearly like every debate, somebody will just say something casually, like “they're so stupid. They don't know what they're talking about.”You're saying before people after rounds, they'll just casually say, ‘oh, that person did so poorly.”

It starts even before the round., with postings, right. Posting is again, the assignment of who's in what room? People will size up in speech or intubate and see who they're paired against. They'll size up who is in the round and they'll go, oh, let's say a name, “Twinkie, my God. She's so stupid. You'll be fine.”

And they'll go, oh yeah, everyone in my room, pardon my language, everyone in my room is shit. I'll do great. I've heard that a million times they'll go like, you know, XYZ is in my room. They're terrible. They go, everyone in this room is bad and it's because the ranking system it's like golf, right? You want a low score. You get first straight first, best, second, second, best, third, and so on. And so who is good is contextualized against who's in your room. And so you're a motivated cause everyone wants to believe they’re good. They're, you're motivated to believe that everyone else in your room sucks and you will say, and it's just so casual to hear it. You'll hear just so many kids around postings and you'll just hear flying. “Oh, everyone in my room is terrible. I'll be fine. Oh, I'm going against this girl. She's so stupid. “ And it goes on and on and on and on, and I don't think we should talk to each other like that.

Marissa: So what kind of steps do you think organizations, or even just individuals in this activity can do to make it a more welcoming and less competitive environment?

Alanna: All right. So I think that first of all, we should just be nicer to each other. I think we should take a step back. Cause like in high school, I don't know if anyone else saw this experience when you graduate and you've had a little space from high school, you look back and you're like, “oh, it wasn't that serious.”

Marissa: Yes. I had that experience. I did Mock Trial in high school and I did the same thing. I was that way too extremely competitive with it. And then you look at your head and you're like, it doesn't really matter. It's a single tournament.

Alanna: So I think kids need to take a moment to self-reflect and go like, you know, winning isn’t everything we're here for funsies. And I think 90, you know, some people do it for college. But there’s like 90 or 80% of the people are there because they truly, truly, truly, truly love the activity. It's a weird activity to like, but they're there because they enjoy it. And that's why people go. And I think we should be reminded of that. It's not about winning because at the end of the day only, you know, only one person is champion in each event and a handful of people get trophies beyond that. So if the only thing you want out of it is a trophy and a title, this is not a place to be.

Marissa: I know. And there are so many skills like we were talking about that you get out of it that aren't even just the trophy, you know, like even just when you get to sit there and watch another debate.

Alanna: Yeah. I learned so much and truly from this activity, it again, like I said, at the top of our conversation, I had a political awakening in it. It totally restructured the way I think, and my values by participating in this activity and hearing what people had to say. And those are benefits that everybody can access through uplifting and listening to each other. And maybe not spreading as fast.

And the second thing that organizations could step in to do, and this is something we're doing at my own tournament. Something that I came up with by myself, is making your rankings primarily determined on a qualitative assessment, assignment of points that you're allowed to tie for. I'll explain what that means. So if you're in a round it will be on the scale that I have assigned for my tournament, which is a scale of one to 10 where you can truly assign 1, 2, 3 up till 10, not only like, oh, the upper end is only acceptable. Now. Like you can assign the full range and when you do that and you allow ties, it's possible for people to, if you had, you know, three legendary people in the round for them to all get tens and successes, not predicated on other people being bad, your assignment is truly just your, how well you do.

And then we're keeping the comparative rankings as a secondary tie-breaking system, because ties do happen, relatively often. And so you do need a system for tie-breaking, but if, if the comparative ranks of 1, 2, 3, 4 through 7 were not that important, then you'd be, it would be less like a focus on like how the other people are doing and we're focused on how you're doing. And then you'd be allowed to respect other people in your round and know that their success is not literally your loss. Cause at the moment. That's how it feels, especially when you're in such a fast-paced and stressful environment.

Marissa: Yeah. So we went through a lot of the different changes your organization wants to see. And we talked a lot about the tournament that you are hosting. What other steps is your organization taking to raise awareness about these issues that you talked about?

Alanna: Yeah, so we have an Instagram where I post little Instagram graphics.

Marissa: They’re very pretty,

Alanna: Thank you. It used to be every day. It's really hard to generate graphics every day. So now it's more like a couple of times a week. That's @1ac.cessibility with a dot after 1-AC, a period. That's the handle. And so you can go and follow us there.

Oh, the petition, the petition, or how could we forget about the petition? So the petition is very important because I am directly emailing every single speech intubate debate organization. But like why would they listen to some rando? It's important to drive, and show community support for this idea so that they'd be more willing to listen. And I've actually already got one person from New Mexico who is interested in having a conversation about reforming debate in New Mexico, which is super exciting.

But I'm going to be following up with them again with another round of emails, but yes, the petition, which you can find linked on our website at You can find it there. You can find it on our Instagram link, you know, find it on my Instagram, @alanna.cronk. It's on any one of our websites, you'll find our link tree and it's on our It's titled “help make speech and debate more accessible” on And it has almost 200 signatures. We're at 196.

Marissa: I feel by the time this episode's uploaded, you will be at 200 signatures.

Alanna: I hope so, I think the next phase, once I get my tournament up and running in the next two days, my next phase is really then the rest of the summer, I've done the generative work of putting together the case of putting together the tournament, putting together some content on Instagram. The rest of my summer is going to be focused on promoting what I have put out.

Marissa: Great. And if people are interested in participating in your tournament or giving any other kind of feedback, like what can, what steps can they take?

Alanna: Yeah, so we have a tournament, we have a tournament interest form that's in our link tree as well. Our link tree really just truly has everything. And I feel like it's great cause there are a bunch of different links to click on. You could totally just gravitate towards whatever suits you. You're allowed to submit features nobody has yet, but If anybody felt the need to talk, or wanted a platform to talk about accessibility, we're totally willing to share a platform. If you want to submit a blog post, if you want to submit an Instagram post, whatever it is, you're allowed to do that.

Sign up for our tournament, which will be in August, I think it's the first weekend in August. We also have Instagram and then like, honestly, if anybody just wanted to talk and chit chat, they could totally just email us, which again is linked everywhere. You could totally just find it and you also have a feedback form to oh, and the feedback form. So, you could totally, if you had thoughts about what you think should change in speech and debate, the feedback form has been super important. We've actually added multiple things in our case as a response directly to what people wrote in our feedback form. And sometimes it was just, you know, one person mentioning it was like, you know, that's a really good idea. We're going to add it. So I've definitely reformed what’s written on our website and what is our official platform in response to, you know, what the community wants because I don't want to just be talking about myself. I really do want to be representing the wider disabled community to the best of my ability. So I felt like the way to do that is to, you know, ask.

Marissa: Yes. Yeah. I think it's great. Like. What's happening through all the different needs that you accounted for. I think this organization is really taking into account all of the different needs that people can have. And I think it's, I think it's great that you're not only considering disability but socioeconomic status, gender, race, all of these different factors that impact somebody's ability to participate in this extremely valuable high school activity.

Alanna: I appreciate that so much. I try my hardest cause I experience a lot of different types of marginalization, but I don't embody them all at once. And, I'm trying my hardest to include everybody that I can while also not, you know, speaking for others, but just kind of, you know, listening to what people have to say, what they think, you know, should be the deal to get the situation, the 411 on what other community discourses and trying to include it in our platform to the best of my ability.

Marissa: Well, yeah. Thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate having you on, I think you are such an articulate and just relatable human

Alanna: Thank you so much. I appreciate that. And Twinkie was licking my leg for like half of this episode and I was just, I was cool with it. She's really been a really good girl, but I don't think she has been, she has, she only barked like once.

Marissa: Yes, she's done a really good job.

Alanna: And thank you. I'll be replaying that compliment in my head for a week. I thrive on compliments. Thank you so much. And thank you for having me on and allowing me to talk about my organization. I really appreciate it.

Marissa: Well, thank you everyone for listening. I hope you enjoyed today's episode and we'll visit the website as well as sign their petition. If you liked this episode and would like to stay up to date, make sure to subscribe to Legally Blonde & Blind on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you get your package. You can also stay up to date on my social media accounts, my Facebook page, Legally Blonde & Blind, and my Instagram account at @legallybb_.

Thank you for listening. And I hope to see you soon!


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