“THE STIGMA IS UNBELIEVABLE”
SIDDHANT SHAH (RIGHT) AT A FESTIVAL IN GOA
A heritage architect who helps cultural organisations become accessible to the differently abled, Siddhant Shah made the country’s first ‘museum braille book’ for City Palace Museum, Jaipur. These books don’t just give written information, but also explain everything with tactile images.
The journey of making things accessible for others has got me into many inaccessible situations—from museums not being ready to meet, to blind schools not wanting to participate. Two years ago, post returning from Greece after my MA in Heritage Management, I won the Ethos-Saint Gobain Scholarship to do research and create disabled-friendly prototypes for museums. I wrote to various organisations, but most e-mails went unanswered. There were times I faced outright rejection— like being told, ‘Hamare yahaan andhe lule log nahin aate hain (Blind and handicapped people do not come to our museums).’ This was especially hurtful, because my mother is partially sighted. For six months, I struggled to find a host museum. This is despite the fact that I had the financial aid and it was the museum that would benefit. Most ‘didn’t feel the need for any research or prototyping to be done’.
After much effort, I got support from organisations like the National Museum and DAG Modern in New Delhi and MSMS II museum in City Palace in Jaipur. But there were also trust issues and resistance from blind schools and other NGOs. Reality hit me when one of the blind school teachers bluntly said that they were not going to send their children: ‘You’ll call them there, give them something to eat, shoot pictures and then send them back.’
I have learned that with persistence you can make a difference. Along with my team, I have been able to make the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa accessible to the visually impaired, created tactile miniature paintings and photographs at the MSMS II museum and have started Disability Access outreach programmes at Delhi Art Gallery. I guess the biggest achievement is that educational institutes like Amity University and Pearl Design Academy have asked me to train their students.”
“We need to fight our own disability, which stops us thinking about those with special needs.”