By Zara Bain of Academic Audio Transcription Ltd.
Archaeology may have become a professional endeavour in the late 18th to 19th century; however, accessibility in the archaeological industry is considerably new and, even then, it is still lacking.
To be clear though, by “accessibility,” we don’t mean public access or widening participation in the field on a broader scale. What we mean is disabled access — in other words, levelling the playing field for people with disabilities by eliminating or reducing disability-related barriers.
Because of the historically physical demands of archaeological work, there has been a misconception that archaeologists need to be nondisabled — especially when it comes to physical disabilities – in order to work in the industry. Despite this perception, the number of disabled archaeologists is rising, with between 10.5% and 11.5% of people working in the field identifying as having a disability, according to data from the Chartered Institute of Archaeologists. If we can contextualise this against the number of working age people (20 to 25%) who are disabled, we can fathom the gap that exists between disabled folks who work in the industry, and those who can work.
And, further, this is an approximation which doesn’t include archaeologists who don’t identify as disabled or having a disability, but may have disability-related needs, like those relating to chronic illness, mental health conditions, or neurodivergence.
Disabled access–and representation–is improving in archaeology
In recent years, disability rights advocates have started to challenge the ableism that exists across the field.
For instance, an Inclusive Accessible Archaeology Project was assembled to explore issues of surrounding disability and the lack of accessibility, primarily in archaeological fieldwork. The result of this project? A set of best practices for including disabled students in fieldwork training.
Similarly, Theresa O’Mahony, a disabled postgraduate archaeology student at the University of London — who focuses on the intersection between disability and archaeology — advocates for the need of greater accessibility in fieldwork, in a piece she wrote called “Enabled Archaeology,” published in 2015 in the British Archaeological Jobs Resource.
The Institute for Digital Archaeology also answered the call by prioritising accessibility among people who are blind or who are visually impaired, with a repository of tactile exhibitions.
But even though accessibility is being increasingly normalised within the industry, it’s usually in the context of physical accessibility in fieldwork. Comparatively less attention is paid to invisible disabilities, such as mental health conditions or learning disabilities.
Given the extent to which disability permeates beyond simply the physical, what’s equally important is making sure your archaeological research and findings are accessible to audiences with diverse access needs, as well as diverse communication and learning styles.
This brings us to why archaeologists should invest in transcription and closed captions for archaeological research: to ensure that your content can be engaged by audiences regardless of their communication style, access needs or disability.
What are transcripts and closed captions?
But before we get into the reasons, what is closed captioning and what are transcripts, or transcription services?
Closed captions and transcripts are distinct but related ways of offering text-based versions of any audio or video content you produce as part of your research, or to communicate your findings to others in public or disciplinary contexts.
Closed captions offer a text-based representation of any audio content in your videos, or even audio-only content, that you might share on spaces like Instagram, Twitter (X), Soundcloud, or elsewhere on social media. It can also include other information that might benefit from text-based capture, such as speaker identities, contextual sounds, text that has been burned into the video, or describing what is seen on the screen in the absence of audio.
Subtitles are perhaps the most familiar form of closed captions, typically offered to translate spoken language into another to reach audiences who don’t share that language. Captions differ from subtitles in that they’re generally produced to aid access within the same language, but use the same file types. They’re also most commonly associated with accessibility for Deaf or hard of hearing audiences, who may rely on captions to engage with auditory, oral or verbal content. But they’re useful for audiences with a wide range of other access needs too. This can include neurodivergent or learning disabled people with auditory processing difficulties, Deafblind users who may rely on the customisability of closed captions in digital spaces to enable conversion into preferred font face, size, or colour, and even non-disabled audiences who for all kinds of reasons can’t easily engage with content with the sound turned on.
Similarly, transcripts provide a text-based capture of your audio or video content, albeit one which lives in a separate document, like on a webpage or in a downloadable PDF or Word file, and which can be read entirely separately from the audio or video it captures.
This can be especially beneficial for providing a searchable, text-based archive of your audio or video content, which can be used for your own coding or analysis, or by other researchers and audiences who want to engage with and cite your work. Because of this, transcripts are commonly created to support qualitative data collection via interviews and focus groups, as well as for research events without live broadcast components, such as workshops, panels, or conferences. They also make a useful complement to podcasts, vlogs, video series, or other kinds of serial, online audio or video materials where having a text-based archive for asynchronous engagement is beneficial for your audiences, and for your web optimisation, too.
Why invest in closed captions and transcripts?
This is precisely why investing in transcripts as well as closed captions matters. People’s access needs differ–as do the contexts in which your audience use your content. For instance, some Deaf users may prefer closed captions, while people with cognitive disabilities may prefer to read through transcripts at their own pace. People with vision disabilities might listen to captions with a screen reader and then through transcripts for important descriptions of visual content–unless your captions include this information too, which it can.
That’s why it’s important to provide both transcriptions and captions to ensure as universally accessible an experience as possible for users with a variety of needs.
And going beyond the argument for disabled access, providing transcripts and closed captions can enrich your content, boost engagement, expand your audience, as well as increase your content’s online footprint and thus improve your search engine optimization.
Want to learn more? Academic Audio Transcription Ltd can help
If you’d like to know more about how closed captions and transcription services might support your project, our team at Academic Audio Transcription would love to learn more about your project and explore how we might be able to help.
As a disabled-led small business, our mission is to increase access to high-quality transcription and closed caption services for audiences with a range of budgets, while at the same time creating accessible, fairly paid, flexible work for primarily disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent freelancers.
We’re passionate about supporting specialists in all contexts to improve access to their content, and make accessible work from accessibility work while we do it.
Send us an email today at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free, no-obligation quotation, and visit http://academicaudiotranscription.com for more information about us, what we do, and how we do it.