Chess and Disability

US Chess Accessibility


The game of chess has maintained the interest of humans, regardless of gender, age, religion, culture, and financial status, from when it was known as thaayam to chaturanga to petteia to shatranj to the modern game. Requiring knowledge of a chess board and pieces, as well as the rules, this strategy puzzle has been used for everything from entertainment to establishment of intellectual prowess, to wartime strategy warm-ups. Moreover, with the addition of an independent rating system, based on performance in competition, the “common playing field” is more level than most other competitive endeavors.

Chess is well-suited for almost all players who would like to learn, play, and compete– regardless of (dis)ability. So long as the rules can be learned, anyone can play. With this logic in mind, it stands as a guiding philosophy of US Chess that “Everyone has a seat at the chess table.” When this logic and history are combined with the current Psychology and Education data, we have direction. Inclusion through accommodation is best practice, and hence a pathway opens for the chess community to put more chairs at the chess table.

The Accessibility & Special Circumstances Committee (ASCC) came to be via a 2015 vote by the US Chess delegates, and was first under the direction of Janelle Losoff. This committee has worked very hard to create Accessibility Guidelines that define what accommodations might be needed and given based on the principle that all chess players should be treated with respect and fairness. Whether a player has a broken hand and needs help with notation and moving the pieces, or is legally blind and requires either a particular board, set, and clock or a game assistant, the game and rules of chess are followed precisely. In requesting and providing accommodations, the rules of chess can not be altered so that any one player has an advantage.


Stylized tournament room


Over the next several months, we will share with you what we have been working on, so as to include the larger chess community in the conversation regarding ways to be open and inclusive. We aim to focus on what reasonable accommodations can be made, not on what specific disability a chess player is playing with. Regardless of whether the disability is visible/ invisible, physical/cognitive, developmental/age-based, or temporary/permanent, many of the accommodations are similar. For example, creating more aisle space and maintaining a board number and placement is an easy and useful accommodation for a player who uses a wheelchair, needs easy access to a bathroom, requires an extra chair to prop up a leg that is in a cast, or has a documentable disability for which having a bit of extra space creates an even playing context.

Knowing what accommodations to ask for, along with the how, when, and where, are just as important as knowing that accommodations CAN be asked for. Not every accommodation can be granted, but the ASCC is working hard to help US Chess tournament organizers, directors, players, and community members create a transparent protocol that increases participation, without increasing opportunities for dishonest play, and separately, increasing costs prohibitively for the tournament organizer and/or the player. We encourage the tournament organizer and director to work with each player to explore the range of specific options that could satisfy the individual player’s accommodation needs.

In our next article, we will start with a discussion of examples of what disabilities are temporary versus permanent, along with what is needed to request an accommodation. Chess is a game of constant learning and exploration. The more people who are playing, the more we all learn! As chess has evolved throughout the past, it continues to do so currently, e.g., Chess 960, and many other, newer variations. Embracing the minds of all who have, and will play, ensures the future of chess.


For more on the work of the ASCC, please visit our page on Accessible Chess Events Guidelines.