Even today, many heritage sites in India do not possess adequate facilities to enable people with disabilities (PwDs) to move about freely. Udaipur is one of the first Indian cities to have a Universal Access Plan for making public spaces inclusive for PwDs as part of their Smart City Mission.
Several heritage sites and monuments across Udaipur do not have facilities to assist the movement of people with disabilities. This includes lack of adequate ramps, toilets, braille signs, auditory symbols, etc.
Landmark tourist spots in the city such as Lake Pichola, Ropeway to the Karni Mata temple are highly impervious. The situation is no different when it comes to public transport.
Illustration by Jyothi Syam
However, through certain endeavours being put in place for the city of Udaipur, there is a glimmer of hope for a truly inclusive environment in the future.
Implementing the Universal Access Plan
In a first for Udaipur, the City Palace Museum is implementing the Universal Access Plan, which is serving as the rule book to improve accessibility.
Today, the plan is helping to equip the 450-year-old palace with ramps, lifts, audio-visual rooms and accessible toilets. It is also enabling easy access for people to traverse along the museum's narrow corridors, gates and pathways which were previously "not designed for a modern museum." The entire process of execution is based on research, field investigations, access audit and user surveys.
Hence, the initiative is expected to pave the path for inclusive tourism - not only for PwDs, but for senior citizens also.
While majority of the movement within the City Palace museum complex is through steps, there are very little available options to assist the movement of people with disabilities (Image credit: Flickr)
The plan which was drafted by Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation (MMCF) falls in line with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) theme of 'Tourism for all: Promoting universal accessibility.' MMCF has been working with the School of Architecture and Planning in Bhopal (SPA Bhopal) since the year 2010, to make this possible.
The Universal Access Plan has laid out both short term and long term goals. On one hand, the near future objectives focus on providing better convenience and making the museum accessible to all visitors, including the differently abled and senior citizens.
Rachna Khare, Professor of Architecture at SPA Bhopal, expressed the long term goals of this Plan, while speaking at the MMCF World Living Heritage Festival in Udaipur in 2016.
"The institutional affiliation with SPA Bhopal, proposes to utilise the City Palace Museum as an educational resource for designing and implementing universal access. The technicalities of the master plan are intended to function as a model with possible replications and adaptations for other heritage sites”, says Khare.
Inclusive Smart City Proposal
The objective of the Smart Cities Mission which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015, was to develop cities with good infrastructure and ensure quality of life for its citizens with a clean and sustainable environment by applying “smart” solutions.
Due to the high influx of tourists in Udaipur, tourism became one of the priority sectors in the Smart City Mission (SCM). Making public places smart and accessible for visitors assumed a lot of importance.
Presently, under the area based development initiative of this mission, reserved parking spaces for PwDs are being set aside at Gulab Bagh. In addition to this, under the smart multimodal mobility plan, semi-low floor buses are being introduced to enhance accessibility for all.
However, the smart city proposals laid out for PwDs are still minimal. More suggestions are being presented by experts, but these will see the light of day only in future.
Expert recommendations for an inclusive Udaipur
At a Roundtable event organised by National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) in 2017, experts recommended a few steps to make Udaipur a disabled-friendly smart city.
Experts like Neha Arora, Founder of Planet Abled, vouched for Udaipur and referred to it as one of the top travel destinations in India.
Neha Arora, Founder, Planet Abled presenting the case for Making Tourism Accessible and Inclusive for All during the NCPEDP roundtable in Udaipur (Image credit: NCPEDP)
Some of her propositions for the Smart City Mission includes:
Develop sensory gardens and tactile shows of art for people with visual impairments
Make parks and hotels accessible to all
Ensure that accessibility status information is readily available
Organise augmented reality based guided tours for the deaf
Collect data on tourism and analyse them towards achieving better and planned development in the future.
Create more awareness in the tourism ecosystem.
Building inclusive spaces
While some historical sites may be looking at easing accessibility for all users, there are multiple facets that need to be taken into account. Arman Ali, Executive Director at National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCEPDP), highlights this.
Ali says, “Providing a ramp does not imply the architecture is disabled friendly. Ramp is just another alternative, a substitute for a staircase. Are the washrooms and corridors accessible, are the information directories readable in Braille, are PWDs able to navigate around or are there any restrictions? - these questions need to be answered.”
Ali also highlights that inclusive design is still at an evolving stage.
“Things are improving for the better. For example, the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) in Bengaluru is a completely accessible museum, focused on providing a seamless experience for people with disabilities”, he adds.
Hence, expanding horizons and leveraging technology to come up with accessible and smart solutions is the key to building an inclusive world in the future.
Edited by Roshni Shroff
Some resources and links to help you learn more about inclusive tourism in Udaipur -