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Round-up of Doug’s Disability In Archaeology Posts

15 Sep

Back in mid August Doug (of Doug’s Archaeology) posted a series of blog entries focusing on disability in the archaeology sector, with five posts discussing different aspects and implications for those with disabilities or long-term illnesses with accessing and/or working in the archaeology profession.  These are fascinating posts detailing issues that have long been bubbling in the archaeology sector.  With Doug’s permission I’d just like to highlight the series of posts here as he has done some fantastic research and initial questioning of the data.  As always I’d recommend you go on to the Doug’s site to read the posts fully.

1Professional Archaeology – Disabled Friendly?

The opening post in the series quickly profiles the meaning and population effect of having a disability in the UK, where Doug considers the national statistics of employment vs disability employment statistics:

In 2012, 46.3% of working-age disabled people were employed compared to 76.4% of  non-disabled people. But, that makes sense right? The definition of a disability, in the UK at least, is-

‘if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.’

Working is a normal daily activity and so we should not be surprised that people with disabilities might not be able to work. Still, if all things were proportionate we would expect to see about 11% of working professional archaeologists to have some sort of disability, but we don’t.” (Doug Macqueen-Rocks 2014).

This is contrasted against the number of individuals working in archaeology who identified as disabled in a 2005, where it is evident that the categories of unseen disabilities is by far the most prevalent category.  Unseen disabilities include asthma, diabetes, agoraphobia, arthritis and heart conditions etc., rather than such visually obvious disabilities such as physical impairment (think wheelchair or the use of walking aides).  The next part of the post highlights the fact that profession archaeological work is often physical and can be carried out in remote places, and that stigma (or stigmata) can play a deciding factor on employment in archaeology (either by reporting or not-reporting disability, which can lead to negative consequences dependent on the context).

Archaeology can also be bad for mental health, as field work in particular can lead to extrinsic and intrinsic pressures on the quality of life for the disabled and non-disabled field archaeologist.  Issues such as constantly moving for work, strained relationships through long working hours, and sheer physical exertion and potential injury, can play a deciding and significant part in the change of mental health of field archaeologists (see Stuart Rathbone’s exceptional post on the strains of field work here on Robert M. Chapple’s site).  This could potentially compound an existing disability in making field life untenable.  Doug wraps the first post by stating that access to university level education for disabled students could also be in danger due to the proposed cuts in funding for the Disabled Student Allowance in the UK (see my post here).  Doug concludes with this statement, wondering if disability in the archaeology profession under-reported, or is it the nature of the sector that has produced these figures?

2Archaeology – The Dyslexic Profession or the Profession of Dyslexics?

The second post focuses on dyslexia, as a high number of both field archaeologists and archaeology students have been indicated to have dyslexia (See this 2005 Archaeology and Disability Survey for further information).  Doug compares the general university wide population in 2004 that registered with a disability at 6.5% compared to almost double that figure for archaeological students (although the data is pulled from two different sets of data).  This is then compared to dyslexia specifically and Doug finds that archaeology is firmly over half for students with dyslexia (8.6%) compared to just 3% of university students as a whole.  This post is open-ended as there are no firm reasons why students with dyslexia are to be found in archaeological courses in a higher proportion compared to the general university level, especially considering that archaeology often involves a lot of reading (site reports, articles, technical manuals, monographs, edited books, theses) and mathematical formulation (statistical analysis, chemical analysis).

In this post the comments are quite interesting to read and highlight a number of possibilities.  It may be the case that many students are attracted to the physical side of archaeology and that university in the modern era offer a good amount of student support.  However it should be noted that dyslexia can affect people in different ways (see also related conditions), that some individuals may not even be diagnosed until they are at the university and that some may never be diagnosed due to a variety of extrinsic/intrinsic factors.  As Doug notes in his conclusion to this post a staggering 47% of UK archaeologists have at least Masters degree or a PhD (data for 2012-13 here), so it appears that dyslexia does not hold back archaeological students academically.  I’d be interested to see this data broken down further by archaeology specialism, to see if there was any trend regarding the scientific fields against the more humanities driven fields in academic archaeology.  As an unrelated aside to this it has been noted that bioarchaeological cohorts at Masters level are often skewed at around 70/30  female/male ratio, yet no single or general reason has yet been deduced to explain this split.  I’d expect further research into the demographic breakdown of archaeological courses to appear over the next few years or so.

3My Disabilities, My Archaeology

A personal post by Doug here as he highlights his own battles with dyslexia, slurred speech and trouble reading, and how he has managed them throughout his fantastic archaeological career.  This is a great post that details Doug’s own views and experiences, and I think it’s best if you read him in his own words.  I do want to point out quickly this point that Doug makes here:

“…I am one of those 1 in 10 archaeology students that has a disability. I am also one of those 1 in 50 professional archaeologists that has a disability. Though, I am in ‘that group‘ of archaeologists who does not considered my problems as disabilities.” (Doug Macqueen-Rocks 2014).

This is an extremely interesting point as people with long-term illness and/or a disability are not a indistinguishable lumpen mass.  Personally I have been largely open about my own disease on this site (although I do understand that could possibly harm my archaeological career), having highlighted the many orthopaedic surgeries that I have been through.  I am state registered disabled and accept that my condition means that I am physically impaired to a certain degree, however I think people can be surprised by what individuals can and cannot do.  I am always personally happy to discuss any aspect of my own disease, but this should not be a generalization of disabled people at large.  A main thrust of this blog is in fact to highlight my own experiences because, until I started this site, I knew or had not met any one individual with the same bone disease.  This site has opened up the opportunities to meet individuals who have been through similar procedures or know what it is like living with McCune Albright Syndrome.  Regardless of this though, it does not detract from my being an archaeologist or a bioarchaeologist although it may limit my opportunities.

4Disclosing Disability: Employment in Archaeology

In the penultimate post Doug tackles the question of disclosing disability on an archaeological employment application.  This is a deeply personal choice as disability can come in all sorts of forms (both seen and unseen), which can affect the performance of the employee and have impacts on the employer.  Again this is quite a personal and insightful post, discussing the problems of special treatment at work and what may, or may not, be a disability that has an impact on archaeological work.  This post definitely hit home.  I’ve been for a few archaeological job interviews now and although I’ve never quite got the job, I have had praise from the interview panel.  At the back of my mind I always wonder if my physical disability has played a deciding factor in the outcome or not.  As Doug concludes, the decision to disclose a disability or not must be undertaken with the view that health and safety takes overall precedence, in consideration of both the employee and employer.  Issues can be worked around and situations can be resolved, however you do not want to put yourself, or somebody else, in harms way.  If you are open and honest about your limitations and abilities this will help both yourself and your potential employer to enable and enact adjustments that work for the benefit of you both.

5Disabilities in Public Archaeology

The final post in Doug’s series highlights the trends present across public archaeology and disability issues in the UK (where the data is taken from – as Doug points out it is likely that this can be extrapolated to other populations in general).  Using various public surveys for the data, the age groups who visit historic places of attraction is discussed and contrasted to age groups with disabilities or long-term illness, graphically showing the relatively strong correlation between age and disability, as perhaps is expected.  Further points in the post  include the need to understand the different types of disability (such as vision, mobility, hearing, mental health etc.) that can affect individuals of different ages, alongside the differences in gender by age groups.  This post is particularly valuable for anyone that works in public archaeology and the heritage sector as it highlights the differing issues that will directly affect your target audiences.

I highly recommend reading the highlighted posts in full as Doug has produced a fantastic series of posts, even as he continues to expertly profile the archaeology profession and sector more generally on his site.

Further Information

Philips, T. & Gilchrist, R. 2005. Disability and Archaeological Fieldwork: Phase 1 – Summary of a Report Based on a Questionnaire Survey of Archaeology Subject Providers, Disability Support Services in HEIs and Archaeological Employers. University of Reading. Archaeology Data Service. (Open Access).

Future Funding: Disabled Students Allowance in the UK

21 Apr

There are some quietly dramatic changes ongoing in higher education in the UK currently but there is one issue that is particularly close to my heart that, as I scanned newspapers and current affairs magazines over the past few weeks, seems to have received scant media coverage or attention.

On the 7th of April David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, released a ministerial statement on future changes to the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) that will affect new students from the 15/16 academic year on-wards.  The Disabled Student Allowance are non-repayable grants, available to both part-time and full-time undergraduate or postgraduate students, that assist with additional costs that a disabled student incurs in relation to their study in higher education, such as when a disabled individual may need a note taker during lectures, a library helper to find and handle books, or when they require specialist equipment for studying and for producing written work.  Those disabled students who are currently enrolled and agreed DSA will not be affected by the new changes, but students who start in 15/16 academic year will be affected.

The aim, Willetts declares in the statement, is to modernise Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) by reviewing the £125 million-a-year support given to thousands of disabled students in the UK.  Essentially the Student Loans Company, the not-for-profit company that provides student loans and DSA in the UK, will be limiting the support types and equipment allocation that they currently fund for disabled students who attend higher education.  Willetts states that he would expect the higher education institutions (HEI’s) to pick up the slack, and provide and pay for the more general support types needed by individual students with disabilities.  Thus the limited public funds available for DSA will support and supply disabled students applying for higher education with a core allocation for certain complex types of support (such as specialised software), whilst hoping that the individual institutions will have the frameworks in place for providing more generalised support types for disabled students in conjunction with support suppliers.

The only mainstream magazine that I have seen mention or discuss the announcement is the ever reliable Private Eye magazine (current edition No. 1364, page 9), and online independent bloggers such as Assist Tech.  Private Eye quote the fact that the National Association of Disability Practitioners (the providers of support that invoice the Student Loan Company for support given) have stated that the move as described by Willetts would create an enormous disincentive for universities to recruit disabled students because of the costs involved.

The value of having a centralised loan company that can collect information, review procedures and investigate providers of equipment and support will surely be lost if individual HEI’s have to rely on a  binary system of dealing with both the Student Loans Company and the individual practitioners, during the providing of support for disabled individuals in higher education.

Following the ministerial statement by Willetts, Paul Higgs, as a part of the Higher Education Student Funding Policy in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, also released a more in-depth Student Support Information Note in April 2014 (SSIN, fully accessible here).  In it the nuts and bolts of the modernisation program is highlighted, and it makes for depressing reading:

  • The bulk of the non-specialist non-medical helpers (NMH) support that is currently funded by DSA will no longer be funded by the Student Loan Company.  This includes library or laboratory assistants, note takers, personal helpers, mentors or specialist helpers.
  • The majority of the equipment that is currently funded by DSA will no longer be funded from 15/16 on-wards, only specialist equipment that is specifically needed by the student will be funded.
  • No assistive technology support or related non-medical helper support is expected to be funded either.
  • Funding will no longer be provided for consumable items (paper, ink etc).
  • No funding will be given for additional costs regarding accommodation changes where the accommodation is funded by the HEI, if this is to be a problem the HEI itself is expected to meet the cost.

There is, of course, core funding that will remain in place and accessible for disabled students from The Student Loans Company itself in complex situations (although complexicity in this instance is not defined further).  The HEI should hopefully have core support ring-fenced from its own allocation of funding and have such frameworks in place for the support of disabled students from the 15/16 academic year on-wards.  The aim of the statement and intended proposals from Willetts and Higgs is to ensure that the DSA is up to date, consummate with the use of public funds and its spending, and to make sure that HEI’s are abiding by the 2010 Equality Act, which ensures that disabled individuals have an equal playing field, in both academia and in employment compared to the average non-disabled individual.  This is an honourable view certainly.

Yet I retain deep reservations about this latest move by the government.  Yes it has only just been announced and yes it is not currently in practice, but I worry for disabled students access to higher education and to academia generally.  This move will force a greater financial burden onto educational institutions throughout the country.  The economic worth of study, and of the place of academia within a national economy generally, is not in dispute, but the availability of access to academia by every sector of society is.  The move is also slowly breaking down the great vision that study is worth it for its own sake as limitations are further placed on the value of access to education.  Furthermore it is another demoralising move towards eroding the individual freedom of disabled people by dismantling core government support, and fanning it out instead to a variety of organisations and companies.

Dr Sarah Lewthwaite, who is a post doctoral research associate in student experience at King’s College London, argues in a critical and perceptive article for The Guardian‘s Higher Education Network that the latest publicly available records state that the DSA annual spending statistics are actually down compared to previous years (12/13 academic year compared to previous academic years).  Further to this, she also questions the areas that are being proposed to be cut by central funding from The Student Loans Company, highlighting that the

Proposed changes to DSA funding may fundamentally redefine disability in higher education. Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADD/ADHD, have been singled out for the largest cuts, and there is a real danger that their needs become invisible.

Willetts has chosen to restrict focus to more “complex” SpLDs and those requiring “most specialist” support. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between a medical diagnosis and the support requirements that students may have. Indeed, it is ironic that the one group singled out for cuts to academic support are those whose disability explicitly affects learning.

It is worth reading Lewthwaite’s full article as it exposes some of the concerns from the academic sector itself, as well as highlighting issues that will affect disabled students and their access to education.

Patoss, the professional association of teachers of students with special learning difficulties, has also raised its concerned with the changes proposed by Willetts.  In a statement, mentioned on their post on the proposals, Paddy Turner has stated that “the size and the scale of these cuts is unprecedented and represents a retrogressive step in equality for disabled people“.  Needless to say I will be interested to see the development and implementation of the modernisation of DSA in the upcoming years ahead.  I will also keep an eye out for further information as and when it becomes available.

Note 1

A thank you goes to Chris Morley, who highlighted in the comments section below several invaluable articles that helped improve this post.

Note 2

Please note that students in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland may be affected differently due to national changes.  It has also become apparent that different universities may have allocated funds for disabled students which could be used for support.  However the problem still remains that universities that formally received DSA support from central government may no longer be able to provide for disabled students.  Please remember that this is dynamic situation and I’d expect changes to happen, especially as a General Election is due in 2015.

Further Information

  • The ministerial statement by Rt Hon. David Willetts, MP for Universities and Science, can be read here.
  • Paul Higgs SSIN statement on the changes in DSA for 15/16 can be found here.
  • Read Sarah Lewthwaite’s perceptive article in the Guardian’s Higher Education Network section here.
  • Have a read of Assist Tech’s personal view and much more detailed response to Willett’s and Higgs’s statement here.  Worth noting is where the ministerial statement found the statistics it uses on the access to a laptop question.  It is misleading at best.
  • The National Union of Students has blasted the decision by Willets in this article here.
  • Read the legislation for the Equality Act 2010 here.
  • The University of Sheffield Union is holding a demonstration against the cuts on the 6th of June, as part of an on-going campaign.  Find out more information here.