Sneha, a student in the eighth grade at the Sheila Kothavala Institute for the Deaf, experiences challenges in accessing most public spaces in Bengaluru. She needs the help of a sign language interpreter to gather and process information at the educational and cultural centres she visits. Unfortunately, most such places in the city are not disabled-friendly.
Sneha was, however, pleased to be at the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) on September 20 (during the International Week of the Deaf, which is celebrated annually by the global Deaf Community in the last week of September each year). She did not have to struggle to experience the exhibits. At the entrance, a video in Indian Sign Language (ISL) welcomed her and her friends to the museum. They could avail of the hearing loops. They had an ISL expert facilitating a workshop.
“I live in a hostel. So, I don’t get to go out much. Even if I do, it is tough to access these places and the information there. But today, I learnt a lot, seeing so many different exhibits,” Sneha says via a sign language interpreter.
MAP has gone beyond the tokenistic disabled-friendly elements — like a parking space and a restroom (they have these, too) — and aims for 360-degree access for people with all kinds of disabilities.
Apart from the ISL reception and hearing loops, the museum has thoughtfully designed its exhibits to be accessible to individuals in wheelchairs. Notable infrastructure enhancements include the installation of double handrails at varying heights to accommodate diverse needs and the addition of braille floor numbers in elevators.
Their commitment to inclusivity extends to their online content, where ISL interpretation and subtitles are provided for events and videos. They have even utilised ISL in their invitations for public openings, promoting inclusivity on social media platforms. MAP’s annual digital festival, Art is Life, incorporates ISL and is available on YouTube for all to access. An inclusive museum guide has been developed, complete with alternate text (Alt text) and captions for compatibility with screen readers. This Alt text describes images and aids visually impaired users. The museum guide is available in 25 languages, including Kannada, Hindi, and Bengali, further enhancing accessibility and promoting cultural inclusivity.
Arnika Ahldag, Head of Exhibitions at MAP, shares that the exhibits have been thoughtfully arranged at a wheelchair-accessible height, prioritising the comfort of all visitors. There are also a few tactile exhibits, designed especially for the museum’s visually impaired audience, inviting them to engage through touch.
MAP has partnered with Mphasis, an IT solutions provider, to create an inclusive space. “Accessibility was not an incidental consideration; it was (MAP’s founder) Abhishek Poddar’s vision to craft a museum that could offer an enriching experience to people from all walks of life,” says Deepa Nagraj, Global Head of Communications & Sparkle Innovation Ecosystem at Mphasis.
The inclusion manager of the museum, Shailesh Kulal, who is visually impaired, shows us the ‘Quiet Room’, which has a comfortable couch, a thick blanket, yellow lights whose intensity can be adjusted, and noise-cancelling headphones. “This especially helps people who are neuro-divergent. If they feel a sensory overload, they can use this room,” he says.
As a part of the International Week for Deaf People, MAP is also screening Niharika Popli’s documentary, If I Could Tell You, which includes diverse perspectives from deaf and queer communities.
For more information, visit map-india.org