Echoing my previous article posted in November 2017,
Before I begin: there is a range of deafness, from mild hearing loss to profoundly deaf. I am in the “medium” range. I wear hearing aids, have worn them since I was around two or three years old, and attended speech therapy classes throughout my youth. Basically, I am a (what a hearing person would say) “functioning” deaf person: I am able to hear, lip-read well, and use my voice to communicate. However, I do not practice the particular “skill” frequently, which means that my “skill” can be ineffective in a group setting when everyone is talking over each other and I would be unable to read anyone’s lips. I chose to not practice my “skill” “often” because I consider myself deaf. I grew up going to an all-deaf school and graduated from a university that mainly serves the deaf. I am very comfortable using my first language, American Sign Language, to communicate with people. Using an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to convey my messages to hearing people is the best way for me to communicate because I am able to accurately represent my “voice” by signing and there would not be any misunderstanding from both sides of the conversation between me and a hearing person (or hearing people).
Five years ago, I typed an article for Archaeology In The Community discussing my deafness and the challenges of being in the archaeology profession with my disability. I admitted a mistake of not having an ASL interpreter present while doing a field school in Belize, I provided information regarding accessibility in archaeology, and noted the lack of archaeology outreach opportunities for Deaf participants.
Time has gone by quickly, and the issues have improved a bit. In creating my Amelia the Archaeologist social media accounts in April 2018 (on instagram, facebook, youtube, and tiktok), I am slowly seeing a change in ensuring accessibility within the archaeology profession.
Here are a few examples of improvement in the profession I’ve noticed; the Archaeological Institute of America started providing ASL interpreters for their Archaeology Abridged lecture programs this year, and had provided ASL interpreters for their annual event, ArchaeoCon 2022 as well. The Bureau of Land Management recently secured a contract with Birnbaum Interpreting Services (a deaf-owned and operated interpreting company) for deaf and hard-of-hearing employees to easily reserve interpreting services. Some archaeology-related social media accounts such as SEARCH, Inc. are adding alt-texts, image/video descriptions, and captions/transcriptions to their posts. Teachers at deaf schools are recognizing the need for broadening students’ employment opportunities by having guest lectures from deaf professionals. Museums, for example the Museum of Natural History at University of Colorado Boulder, including ASL-translated videos to their permanent exhibits. Archaeology organizations reaching out for accessibility suggestions and referrals, asking disabled archaeologists to be on panel discussions, and so on.
In my experience thus far within the profession, I held seven archaeology positions and five museum-related positions and I have only encountered one difficult supervisor. All of the co-workers and employers I worked for and/or with have been very understanding and willing to ensure my accessibility needs. It may be sheer luck, or simply because the archaeology profession is shifting in their usual mindset. I sincerely do think it is the latter, however, I also know we still have a long way to go in terms of improving the profession as a whole.
Through my social media accounts, I was able to connect with other deaf archaeologists working professionally, and those who are also current students in the profession. Never would I have thought I’d have the chance to get to know them, and to be friends, especially being able to work alongside one at one of my previous employment positions. I met deaf youths who are interested in becoming archaeologists. I was also written in a student book project about my endeavors, which to me signifies the desire of learning more about archaeology and of what archaeology can do for the deaf communities.
Unfortunately, there is still a lack of archaeology outreach opportunities or programs for the deaf, youth and/or adults. Programs such as archaeology site tours, volunteer-focused digs, archaeology lectures are not widely available to the deaf communities due to accessibility. Organizations seem to think we should wait for the interest of the deaf communities in order to develop programs but I think otherwise. Despite the possibility of having low participant numbers, we should be rolling up our sleeves and providing opportunities regardless. Over time, I believe there will be an increase in participant numbers from the deaf communities.
Accessibility is a tedious process because not every disabled person has the same needs and this is something to always keep in mind. We must continue to educate each other and we shouldn’t have to ask for accessibility.