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The need to make the monuments accessible & methods to do so - Guest column by Sminu Jindal, Founder-Chairperson, Svayam

Our guest columnist this week is Sminu Jindal. As Founder-Chairperson of Svayam, an organisation dedicated to building an India accessible to every one.

India's historical monuments hold significance at global level and are appreciated for its cultural richness and beauty, with over seven million tourists visiting India annually.

One of the largest tourism markets in South Asia, India's tourism revenue in 2018 was USD247.3 billion, with a growth rate of 6.7%. Still, there are so many people who are unable to come to India as many of our historical sites continue to have accessibility challenges. One can imagine how important and indispensable accessibility in tourism is for India.

Accessible tourism allows all tourists to enjoy their right to visit the monumental wonders that India has to offer.

As per Census 2011, India's disabled population stands at 2.68 crore and elders were 10.38 crore. If we add the population of people with reduced mobility such as pregnant women, sick and individuals with temporary and partial disabilities, the numbers will be substantial. So you can see that a large section of people face challenges while accessing historical sites, while the Indian law requires that all public buildings and places must be accessible to all people including seniors and those with disabilities.

India, being a tourist hub having multitude of cultural and heritage monuments, can present an example to the rest of the world if our heritage sites as well as public infrastructure and transportation systems are made accessible. Tourists tend to visit other places apart from monuments when they land in a city. Accessibility allows for a joyful experience for both international and domestic tourists.

The question about why accessibility in heritage sites and monuments is important can only be answered with the most basic and universal fact that 'to travel with dignity and comfort is a right that every individual should enjoy equally'. Indian heritage sites and monuments are a reflection of our rich cultural, historic and architectural knowledge which has a lot to offer to the world. This means that no matter how different the challenges may be for individuals to reach and visit these heritage places, the solutions in terms of transportation, the physical infrastructure and public services and facilities at the heritage sites should all be inclusive in nature.

or accessible solutions mean that no one misses out on any opportunity to enjoy their travel experiences. One of the preferred ways to make our heritage sites accessible is to involve user groups and stakeholders while planning and designing facilities. This also provides an opportunity for the conservationists to share with the user groups the limitations of the site due to its cultural and heritage value. This is important since making a building accessible is completely different from incorporating accessibility improvements in a heritage site or building of historical value. We have to work with the challenges of not interfering with the original architecture and aesthetics of the historical place while still meeting the needs of diversity of visitors.

Accessibility in the true sense

Accessibility is not limited to just the physical infrastructure, it extends to services, technologies employed therein, the website, applications, and print material such as tickets, information brochures, interpretation centres, signage etc.

I believe the tag of an 'Accessible Heritage Site' can make it more popular and help it attract more footprints than those which are not accessible. Today, Qutub Minar is more popular among tourists as it was made accessible way back in 2008 by Svayam in collaboration with the . It was the first World Heritage Site to become so, and once it became accessible, it started getting more footfalls than earlier. Svayam's partnership with the ASI resulted in to making several other world heritage sites such as the Taj Mahal, Lal Quila, Fatehpur Sikri Group of Monuments, Ajanta and Ellora Caves also accessible to diverse group of users.

Accessibility also brings added benefits such as good signage and dedicated access route and ramps. These reinforce the discipline of moving in a queue while also making the site safer for all. Therefore, in order to make our heritage, religious and cultural monuments accessible, we must realise that it is a journey where all of us must make our contributions; it will help ensure an accessible nation for our own future, and for generations to come.

We as a society can achieve our fullest potential only when we ensure guarantee of access to our historical and cultural monuments and spaces for all. Solidarity for accessibility in tourism is the way forward.

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