Today at the Microsoft Ability Summit, Microsoft announced the launch of a new world in Minecraft: Education Edition called BuildAbility.
BuildAbility is the first world for Minecraft focused on accessibility and building inclusive spaces. Microsoft is also collaborating with the Peel District School Board to create a world within the game to help students understand, identify, and work to eliminate, accessibility barriers in their school and community.
The game’s world was developed by Microsoft in collaboration with the Peel District School Board by a small team of educators who contributed their time weekly to provide insights and help develop ideas. According to Microsoft, it was also important for them to draw on the lived experiences of people who face accessibility barriers. To this end the PDSB consulted with their students about what they face on a daily basis, both at school and in the community. They both said these insights are reflected in the game.
This venture was imagined by Canadian educators from PDSB, and the Minecraft world draws on spaces from the Peel area with similar experiences to what people with displaces face at places like a local shopping mall or a library. BuildAbility will explore a few, but not all, accessibility barriers and disabilities experienced by students.
The two companies also want players to remember that the majority of disabilities are invisible to others which means they couldn’t be represented in BuildAbility. While they’re not the first company to throw their hat into the disability video game ring, Microsoft has made an effort to be more inclusive to its players while being open to keeping classic content alive.
“We are proud to collaborate with Microsoft on BuildAbility as an introductory accessibility learning tool,” said Rusulan Q Hoppie, PDSB Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. “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 [with Microsoft and Minecraft] 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.”
Within this unique Minecraft: Education Edition world, students will learn about the five types of accessibility barriers—Attitudinal; Information or Communication; Organizational or Systemic; Physical; and Technological—and then rebuild spaces in the world to make them more accessible. In-game characters representative of people in our real-world communities who face accessibility barriers will make requests to help guide students along.
BuildAbility is designed to encourage deeper critical thinking, inquiry, and consciousness of accessibility concerns by exploring them through Minecraft. As learners identify barriers in-game, they will use inclusive design thinking and problem solving rooted in empathy and social emotional learning.
Microsoft has shown a willingness to not just stick with Call of Duty or Forza but actually help people, not just players, for the greater good. Their Xbox Remote Play system allows players who might not be able to hold a controller comfortably play on their iPhone or Android phones with touch screen support for most games. Meanwhile their Xbox Game Pass program helps keep new software accessible for those who may not have the means to upgrade to a new Series X console.
Microsoft and Minecraft will be participating in Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) on May 19 by hosting a Live Lesson in BuildAbility, and interested educators can find other lesson plan resources on their website. For more resources on making gaming accessible, check out the AbleGamers Foundation.