Disability and archaeology: archaeology's hidden problem

Surveys within the profession report that between 10.5% (2019-20 Profiling the Profession) and 11.5% (CIfA member survey, 2020) of individuals working in archaeology reported that they are disabled. Contrast that with, for example, the UK Government data suggesting that the proportion of working adults now declaring a disability in 2019 is 13.8% (Source: Office for National Statistics - disability and employment 2019), and it shows that people with disabilities are under-represented in the archaeological profession.

Most archaeology employees have degrees, but the profile of disability reporting at UK Universities is radically different to those in commercial practice. Records show that, in 2019/20, 26.8% of students taking archaeology courses had a declared disability. This compares to just 14.6% of students taking all subjects.

The data is clear that at degree level the discipline is remarkably inclusive in relation to disability. But at the professional level this diversity appears to have either not been declared or to have been lost. In losing this diversity the profession misses out on the wide range of talent, knowledge and perspective these individuals offer. For example, from the CIfA and Mentoring for Women in Archaeology and Heritage (MWAH) dyslexia and archaeology survey 2019, being able to problem solve and seeing the bigger picture were identified as attributes individuals with dyslexia can offer.

Making professional archaeology more inclusive

CIfA’s aim is for more archaeologists to want their professionalism recognised through accreditation and for the profession to be more inclusive.

Archaeologists work for all the public, but many parts of society are not reflected in the discipline or profession of archaeology. To change this, we are working with others to create a more diverse and equal discipline, and we want to aim for a profession that is at least as diverse as the discipline it draws on.

The purpose of this resource is to provide information and case studies (see below) from archaeologists and archaeological employers about the measures they have put in place to try to address the barriers that exist for people with disabilities to access the profession. These are based on their individual circumstances, so if you use these you will need to ensure that any reasonable adjustments are applicable to your situation(s).

Legal obligations and the Code of conduct

Everyone should be aware of their obligations under disability law and disability discrimination (for example the Equalities Act in the UK). In addition, professionally accredited archaeologists must adhere to the requirement of the Chartered Institute’s Code of conduct to give due regard to the requirements of legislation relating to employment discrimination on grounds of race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation or religious belief (Principle 5.3).  This is supported by the Equal opportunities policy which states that equal opportunities are an issue integral to every aspect of archaeological work.

Reasonable adjustments can be made as a way of making archaeology more inclusive for people with disabilities. For example

  • desk-based work for someone suffering from M.E. can be easier with adjustments such as a sit-stand desk and anti-fatigue mat
  • allowing someone with dyslexia to use headphones can help them to block out other distractions and allow them to concentrate on their work
  • providing someone with a visor rather than goggles as part of their PPE can ease visual distress

Telling your employer

Awareness of disability is still predominantly focused on physical disability, but invisible impairments are perhaps more common. Many employees have conditions such as dyslexia, failing sight or hearing, high blood pressure or asthma, or mental health problems.

Managing disability and long-term health conditions in the workforce is also a key consideration.

No one is obliged to disclose or share information about a disability to their employer and since many disabilities are invisible, this is a very real choice employees can face. However, declaring your disability will help your employer to make the right reasonable adjustments to ensure you are not disadvantaged in doing your work.

Examples of reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustment can be anything from a particular type of mouse or keyboard, to a chair, or to adapted tools or machinery. There may also be additional support available to help: for example, in the UK the gov.uk website provides information on access to work providing help, support, and advice (including financial) for purchasing aids to help with disabilities. Reasonable adjustments can equally be changes in flexible working, duration of activities, giving, or arranging for training or mentoring, or providing supervision or other support.

In legal terms, adjustments can aim to make sure that, as far as is reasonable, a worker with a disability has the same access to everything that is involved in doing and keeping a job as a worker without a disability.

An employer is not required to do more than what is reasonable, and this depends, among other factors, on the size and nature of their organisation. Health and safety may also have an impact and employers may need to consider adjusting the task to make it possible for a worker with a disability to do a job safely, but this should never be used as an excuse to discriminate, even if this is not the intention.

Find out more about health and safety for disabled people:

Training and awareness

It is also important to offer training and awareness support for line managers or other staff members, to help them to recognise when a colleague is struggling and not to feel inhibited about talking to them, or to know what to do when someone declares a disability.  Responses to the CIfA and Mentoring for Women in Archaeology and Heritage (MWAH) dyslexia and archaeology survey 2019 showed that individuals had received negative responses after informing their employer, which included not being offered support or being listened to, or feeling that informing their employer had been detrimental to their career advancement or finding that they had been side lined from tasks.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ Disability Confident scheme has a good practice guide for line managers on recruiting, managing and developing people with a disability or health condition. This includes practical tips for managers to help staff and colleagues feel comfortable to talk about a disability or health condition.

The Business Disability Forum works with businesses to transform the life chances of disabled people as employees and consumers.

Training is also included in the access to work scheme.

Case studies

Further information can also be found in the Employing people with disabilities: good practice guidance for archaeologists (2010) and from the Enabled Archaeology Foundation.

Disability statistics relating to archaeology in the UK

Inclusive Accessible Archaeology

The Inclusive Accessible Archaeology project looked at disability in archaeology in universities and found that in 2005, at sixteen of nineteen university departments who responded 282 of 2060 archaeology students, or 13.8%, had some form of disability (Phillips & Gilchrist 2005, table 8). Of the disabilities listed, the most common was dyslexia (63.1%), followed by unseen disability (15.2%). 

Profiling Archaeology Students

In 2019/20, 26.8% of students enrolled on primarily archaeology courses had a declared disability (1190 of the 4445). This compares to 14.6% of students taking all courses (368,851 of 2,532,385). (Source).

Profiling the Profession 2019-20 data

In 2019-20 Profiling the Profession, the labour market intelligence project for UK professional archaeology, found that 10.5% of individual archaeologists reported that they were disabled. In comparison, archaeological employers reported that 2.8% of archaeologists working for them in 2019-20 were disabled.

CIfA members survey data 2020

The 2020 CIfA member survey was responded to by 655 individuals which representated 17% of the membership. 11.5% of these individuals reported that they had a disability.