Saturday, June 19, 2021
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“World Heritage Day” : Heritage sites to be friendly to disabled visitors

By M Ahmad

UNESCO established 18 April as The International Day for Monuments and Sites/World Heritage Day, in 1983. Every day people all over the world celebrate their cultural heritage, simply by living their lives in a way that embodies who they are and where they came from. But one day a year is set aside to celebrate the joint history and heritage of the human race. World Heritage Day encourages us to celebrate all the world’s cultures, and to bring awareness to important cultural monuments and sites, and to espouse the importance of preserving these Heritages. UNESCO’s vision is to create all Heritage sites inclusive, pluralistic, equitable, open and participatory for all citizens.

Disability ought to be regarded as an instance of diversity, not as a limitation. Promoting accessibility then becomes a matter of inclusion. Hence the existing infrastructure at heritage sites ought to be adapted to meet the needs of both persons with and without disabilities. India’s most heritage sites are still not fully accessible for people with disabilities. So do hundreds of other monuments, which are top revenue earners, lack basic facilities for visitors with disabilities.

Hundreds of monuments, which are top revenue earners, lack basic facilities for visitors with disabilities.

The facilities at these sites, for smooth movement of persons with disabilities, include ramps, disable friendly lifts, tactile paths, braille signage, disable friendly toilets & washrooms, a separate sheltered accessibility facilitation / service counter for PWDs, availability of assistive devices and mobility equipment, mobility equipment for internal movement of such visitors, staff / guides at the heritage site should be formally trained for providing service to PWDs and preferably trained for sign language interpretation, pathways should be firm and slip-resistant and wide enough for wheelchair users, linkages and transitional spaces should be barrier free and should not form obstacles to disabled users, the connection spaces between the various buildings and facilities must also be accessible in order to form a complete travel chain.

As we look ahead, access to cultural heritage by persons with disabilities is one area where it is possible to build further on present achievements. We believe that making India’s heritage sites accessible to persons with disabilities will further strengthen India’s rank in upcoming editions of the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI), while also establishing the country as a leading model of accessibility planning and implementation in the South Asian region. Accessible cultural heritage would benefit not just Indian citizens with disabilities, but also the millions of tourists from around the world who visit India every year.

We need to respect the diversity in our cultural offerings and preserve them for future generations to come.

(Writer: M Ahmad, Principal (I/C), Abhedananda Home, Higher Secondary Institution for Specially-abled Children, Solina, Rambagh, Srinagar (J&K). Email: [email protected])

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