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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).