“THE STIGMA IS UN­BE­LIEV­ABLE”

India Today - - GOOD NEWS - SID­DHANT SHAH, 26 Her­itage ar­chi­tect and ac­cess con­sul­tant —As told to Sukant Deepak

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.”

SAN­DEEP SAHDEV

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