Back in 2006 while attending an exhibition with his visually impaired mother, Siddhant Shah (32) first felt the pangs of disability when the guards stopped her from entering an exhibition hall. They were afraid, she would topple a work of art because of her lack of vision.
Shocked, Siddhant was determined to develop something that would help visually impaired people experience life closely and live a life beyond the barriers imposed by disability.
“Each person has the right to experience life fully. It is alarming how those who are not disabled narrow down the life experience of the disabled. Only certain seats on buses, or maybe a few Braille labels here and there, pretty much we offer the bare minimum. I thought it was time to be more inclusive for those who are physically or visually impaired and open up the world of knowledge, heritage, and history for them, and what better place to start than our monuments,” Shah told Business Today.
Shah who is an architect by training, says that the western countries have been awakened to the needs of the differently abled for decades and all important places of history and museums already have Braille, ramps, and other architectural tweaks in place to help everyone experience them despite limitations.
Shah who has been widely inspired by the accessibility provisions at global monuments like the Acropolis in Greece and museums worldwide took the plunge with Access For All – the organisation he founded to provide advocacy. Recently, Shah’s journey has been documented by the National Geographic Channel.
Over time, Shah has replicated his success with the City Palace at corporate buildings and other places of history and knowledge in India. He is currently engaged by the British Council to make accessibility audits. He is currently the youngest consultant at the Pradhanmantri Sanghrahalay at the Prime Minister's office. Accolades have been showered on him by various quarters for his passionate work in the field already.
“What people do not realise is that disability can strike us at any given time. Just as my mother lost her vision at a certain stage of life, many people experience disability after illnesses, accidents, or hazardous professions. So we should be in a position to include all sorts of requirements that people have,” Shah said. While monuments and museums are one thing, Shah believes that our everyday built-up spaces too should display more sensitivity.
“Offices, academic spaces all have to think and rethink about inclusion and make their spaces disabled friendly,” he adds.
Shah who has also been engaged in consulting corporates on diversity inclusion at the workplace is determined to witness transformation in India – one monument at a time.
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