Disabilities in Public Archaeology

Posted on August 16, 2014


To finish out this week of posts on disabilities and Archaeology I took a look at disabilities in Public Archaeology and found some interesting trends that anyone involved in public archaeology should be aware of.

(other posts in the series: disabilities in professional archaeology, dyslexia and archaeology, disabilities helping or hurting, disclosing disabilities to your employer)

Public Archaeology- Is it all about the family?

I gathered data from different sources to get a picture of how Public Archaeology should think about disabilities in the public. Though it is UK based because that is where I can get the data. I think it will have implications for other countries as well but you probably need to gather your own data to confirm these findings.

I took a look at the Scottish Household survey for 2013, a basic sampling of the Scottish population.  Here is a break down of the percentage of adults, within each age group, who visit and interact with historical places, including archaeological sites, at least once a year.

Visits to Historic Place

Visits to Historic Place

I find it interesting that the peak age for visiting historic sites is actually mid-30s to mid-40s. All our information on Archaeology Societies in the UK suggest that their membership is above retirement age. Most of these community archaeology groups have an average age of 55, 60, or 65. Though we are taking about two different types of activities, interacting with sites and professional amateurs (yes- I know that is contradiction but the dedication of some people to their “hobby” puts them into the level of professionals). I highly suspect the peak around middle-age has more to do with having children and visiting historical places is a good day out for kids.

As We Age

Compare those numbers against people in Scotland with a long term illness or disability.

Long term illness or disability in scotland

Long term illness or disability in Scotland

The age groupings don’t line up but we do see a massive change as disabilities jump participation in heritage activities drops. Not very surprising but it does indicate that while we view a disproportionate number of retired folk involved in Public Archaeology it is actually the newly retired that are more involved. Over the age of 75 most people are not that involved in Heritage. While correlation is not causation I suspect that there is a golden age where someone is retired and has more time to dedicate to heritage but that quickly drops off as they start to experience more problems due to aging.

Disability Through the Ages

Taking a slightly different data-set, the Family Resource Survey, which breaks disabilities by type and rough categories of age for ALL of the UK. Those age groups being children, working age adults and pensioners (60 for women, 65 for men). This gives us an idea of what sort of disabilities one should expect by age group (I think life-group is a better word).

Disability by life group

Disability by life group

As you would suspect, certain problems increase with age. Mobility and dexterity issues increase with age. In a slight reversed trend social/behavior problems and learning difficulties are more prominent among the young. I believe that is because more people are being diagnosed with these sorts of problems in the last few years. There is a much higher push to find and label these difficulties these days. In 20 or 30 years I would be interested to see if we there is a jump in the older age groups experiencing these problems. Mental illness peaks in working age adults. Problems like schizophrenia do not begin until someone reaches their 20s. Moreover, many people with severe mental issues die much younger so these distribution makes sense.

Gender and Disability

UK disabilities by age and gender

UK disabilities by age and gender

There are some interesting trends in terms of age and gender. For pre-teens boys have more issues than girls. This is mainly related to boys having more social-behavioral problems than girls. However, by the time they reach adulthood women have more disabilities than men. A trend that is pretty much consistent for the rest of their lives. We are only talking a few percentages points higher but in could mean that women are slightly less likely to be involved in archaeology. Especially, if older adult women have more problems with mobility and dexterity which means activities with lots of movement, like excavations, will be less appealing.

UK disabilities by age group and gender

UK disabilities by age group and gender

Those are the trends I found regarding disabilities in the general public that I think will be relevant to Public Archaeology. I hope they can be of use to you when you are planning your Public Archaeology events/activities.

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