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Sense and sensitivity: On International Museum Day, its ‘access for all’ in the age of ‘new normal’


He remembers that it was in the year 2010, when his mother became partially sighted, that he started looking at spaces including art galleries, museums, monuments and events with a perspective whether they were conducive to people with special needs.

After all, she always made it a point to check out new exhibitions in town and visit museums. For him, it suddenly became important that the visually impaired should be able to experience through tactile interventions what others could see through eyes.

Heritage architect Siddhant Shah, founder of Mumbai-based ‘Access for All’, who made India’s first museum Braille book and has been instrumental in helping cultural organisations (Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, UNESCO consultant on accessibility on making cultural heritage accessible- pilot project Red Fort) accessible to the differently- abled also happens to be the first Indian to win a scholarship to pursue a Master’s degree in Heritage Management from the prestigious University of Kent (Athens, Greece campus) in 2015.

Even now, Shah, who designed the Braille book with tactile images for State Bank Museum of Pakistan in Karachi has his hands full even as ‘touch’ has become almost a scary word in times of COVID-19.

At present developing and design an all inclusive Tiger Interpretation Center for TADOBA National Park, Shah is also working with the CRS team of a literature foundation for creating Braille novels.

As he develops India’s first sign language guide for Mehrangarh Museum in Jodhpur, he admits that the present pandemic will force a lot of things to change. “But we would prefer to call it suiting to scenario. We are part of the Glocal Webinar on ‘Museum Inclusion in times of Social Isolation’ with speakers from Malaysia, India, Pakistan and Greece, throwing light on the ideas of inclusion in the time of ‘new normal’. It is important that in face of this pandemic, and the precautions that need to be made a part of our lives, the differently-abled are not left out. The onus is on us to find a solution, and we will,” said this 29-year-old.

Believing that though the past few years have witnessed a change in attitude towards accessibility in the country, there is still much more that needs to be done, he added, “It has to be inculcated from the very beginning. And the only way to do that is by making school children more sensitive towards the needs of those with special abilities.”

Pleased that the private/corporate sector is also waking up to its social responsibility and doing its bit for accessibility, Shah added, “Things have surely changed in the past five years when it comes to major corporates. Of course, in a huge country like India, it need to be done at a much faster pace and on a wider scale.”

Insisting that what he witnessed first hand in Greece and Europe in terms of accessibility is what still pushes him, Shah recalled, “Imagine, there was a lift to go up to the Parthenon on the Acropolis. All the facilities were so immaculately designed that they never eclipsed the historic landscape. One could see that at the Colosseum in Rome too. In so many museums there, there were tactile objects to be touched. Remember, it’s not just the interventions, but the thought that no one should be excluded that counts.”

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

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