Disclosing Disability: Employment in Archaeology

Posted on August 14, 2014


So you are an archaeologist with a disability or an employer who might employ someone with a disability what do you do? Luckily, there is guidance available, the wonderful guide ‘Employing People with Disabilities: Good Practice Guidance for Archaeologists‘. Thank you to David at These Bones of Mine for alerting me to this great resource. Unfortunately,  it is behind a paywall of the IfA. If you have access to their website the link is here.  I linked to the PDF which might give you access. If you don’t have access I am going to take one of the most important aspects of the paper and discuss it here.

(This is part of a series of posts on Disabilities and Archaeology- see rates of disability in professional archaeology, why is dyslexia so high in archaeology, my personal experiences )

To Disclose, or to not Disclose, that is the question

Do you disclose your disability to your employer? I am going to look at this from two perspectives, the employer and employee. Hopefully, giving each side an insight into the others perspective.

Health and Safety

In the case of health and safety there is no two perspectives- there is only health and safety. Here is a quote from an employer in the guide –

‘The diabetic person did not tell me they were diabetic at the time (although I do ask if there are any medical conditions at the time of employment) and I was cross to find this out later, if they had had an incident I would not have known why/what was going on. They told me later they did not tell employers in case they would not get the job. My response was that I was more likely not to give them the job for withholding vital medical information! In my opinion a stupid thing to do and by not being honest when asked about any medical conditions that might affect their work I would not employ them again as they were not trustworthy, not because they were diabetic.’
I will come back to the trustworthiness aspect but first in foremost is to be safe. Some issues like diabetes or allergic reactions, like the kind that sends you into anaphylactic shock, should always be reported to you employer. I think the part were you might die and you need someone to know what is going on is a good enough reason to do it.

Say It With Me Now, Loud and Proud ……… (crickets chirping)

In that response the employer was very cross with the employee for not disclosing. Why would someone not disclose? Well for one, the employee might not think they have an issue.

‘Many people choose not to declare their disability, and quite rightly so if that is the way they want it. The less obvious disabilities, the hidden ones, aspects such as diabetes, epilepsy and dyslexia, those types of things, many people won’t declare them because they may not feel that it is a disability. Indeed, it may not be a disability if it doesn’t disable them. It is obviously up to the individual whether it’s a disability and if to declare it.’ (HR Manager)

I have never told a single employer about my issues. I am one of those Archaeologist that are probably under reporting a disability. Why? Well in some cases it is not even relevant to the work. Slurred speech in no way impacts my ability to dig a hole. I think there are many archaeologists who are in the same boat.

Do as I say, not as I do

However, the main reason I don’t discuss my problems is because for all we say about wanting diversity and accepting of difference it really sucks to be different from everyone else. Unless of course that difference means you are really good looking, then we like different.

It was a lesson I learned very young and one that has been reinforced over and over again. Remember how I said I couldn’t read when I was younger and that meant the school system would label me ‘special needs’. Well that is exactly what happened to me. Special education is practically a death sentence for anyone in it. The idea is good, special help for those that need it, but in practice it does not work out that way. The teachers are too overworked and have too many kids to make an impact. I have only met one other person who has made it out of the lower end of special education. In the US all kids even those with learning disabilities have to be tested for that stupid No Child Left Behind bullsh$”. The system is set up so that schools lose money if their average scores are too low. One way to raise the average is to flunk out the lowest scoring kids so they leave the school. Most kids with learning disabilities never make it to graduation, shipped off to a special school where their scores would not count against those of us who remained. My Freshmen class in High School started out with 1100 kids and graduated 600 some. Yeah, people dropped out for all sorts of reasons but many of them were move to a ‘special school’ for their learning needs.

I learned quite young to never report any learning problems.

Special Treatment in Work is a Death Sentence

I have seen it in work as well. I worked with someone who had chronic fatigue syndrome. They were the least popular member of the team. Not because they were a bad person or didn’t pull their weight, they were an excellent worker. However, on occasion they would suffer an attack and have to stop work for a little while. People would get pissed at them because it looked like they were getting extra breaks. Even though they liked the person, jealousy sunk in and people complained about special treatment. Even the best of people can have trouble empathizing or sympathizing if they have never experienced a problem.

Soup Nazis, Spelling Nazis, Grammar Nazis, still all Nazis

For some reason people feel that if they put another word in front of the word Nazi it can then be used as a badge of honor. It is amazing how many times I hear people say, ‘I am an English Nazi, people should learn to speak and write English correctly. I am helping them by calling them out’. I hate to break it to you but putting any word in front of Nazi does not make you any less of jerk. But, no matter where you are there is always someone ready to go to war over issues you have no control over. These are sort of people you get to interact with.


All right, I really hammered home the point that most employees will be very reluctant to share any information that might ruin their chances at current or future employment. An employer needs to realize that many people will come with baggage and through no fault of their own will not be trusted by their employees.

Health, Safety, Laws and Work

Employees need to realize that employers have a whole host of issues they have to worry about.

  • Getting the work done. An employer needs to finish the job they were hired for. This is very hard to do when your employees can’t work.
  • Health and Safety- your employer is responsible for ensuring  a safe workplace. Hard to do if their employees might die on them.
  • Discrimination- employers need to ensure no discrimination occurs. That can’t happen if they don’t know a they could be discrimination against someone.
  • Laws- depending on the country some employers are liable for different issues- reporting disabilities, making accommodations, etc. You complicate this if you don’t report any issues.

Be considerate of your employers needs. Does your not reporting your disability effect them and their responsibilities? How would you feel if someone held something back and it effected your work?

And the Answer is …

Health and Safety should always come first. After that it really depends the issue and the context. I don’t think there is one right answer. However, each side needs to think about the others needs and how that might effect the outcome. I will leave you with this quote-

‘You’ve got to get both sides to think very seriously about how you do it, it’s just a case of being open-minded. It is about finding out about what people can do and helping them to work and discussing this at the point of being offered a job. It’s not insurmountable.’
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