Inspiring the Physically-challenged in Museum
In the quest for equal opportunities in life, which is a fundamental component of human rights, physical accessibility is a key indicator of equitable distribution of resources in the society. As a physically handicapped person, who relies on a wheelchair for his day-to-day mobility, I harbor special concern and interest regarding accessibility to various facilities nationwide.
While some organizations ignore the need to make unhindered accessibility a reality, others have gone the extra mile to ensure all people enjoy a smooth physical journey to their physical premises. One such organization is The National Archives (United Kingdom).
Designated as the official archive and publisher for the UK government, TNA is a museum-like facility that houses numerous art creations and historical artifacts and documents, some dating as far back as 1,000 years ago. Being an executive agency of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in England, The National Archives’ evident efforts to cater for the accessibility needs of the physically disabled reflects well on the commitment of the UK government to ensure equitable resource distribution.
The Need to Make Public Places Accessible by All despite any Disabilities
As many of my friends, colleagues and relatives observe behind my back, I am not able to cope with my physical condition very well. According to some (or all my caretakers), I whine too much and I have taken the ‘neglected physical disability cause’ very personally. Curiously, I do not deny this; I strive to justify my position. I suffered a near-fatal auto accident many years ago just after my college graduation, which caused spinal paralysis.
Since then, I have never been able to use my legs and I rely on a wheelchair to get to places. As such, you can understand my bitterness at how demoralizing fate can be to confine a perfectly healthy man to a wheelchair at the prime of his youth. Anyway, enough with the whining let me commend a wonderful facility that should be feted for being a humanitarian epitome, The National Archives.
I visited The National Archives many years ago when I was perfectly healthy and it’s embarrassing to say that back then I didn’t note anything amiss regarding accessibility. On my second trip, still several years ago but disabled, I needed some scholarly research materials for my history dissertation project — and this is when I tasted a dose of my own medicine.
To start with, the Kew Gardens Underground station did not have specialized ramps for wheelchair users. I was lucky to have a physically fit assistant, who all but carried me to the facility. Again the facility was not wheelchair-friendly at all at the time and we had a really rough time getting around the huge spaces. Unexpectedly, I offered a rather distasteful verbal complaint to the staff and followed it up with an equally accusatory letter to The National Archives management. And then I left it at that.
Impressive Wheelchair-friendly Improvements which Create Room for Anyone to Learn
Late last year, I revisited The National Archives for a private research session and I was very impressed.
TNA has implemented a wide range of solutions to cater for various physical disabilities including sight problems, hearing defects, and mobility issues. The building, which includes a museum, a bookshop and a restaurant, is wheelchair-friendly all through. To start with, the Kew Gardens station, which is the nearest rail and tube station to The National Archives (about 0.75 km from the facility), has ramps from both platforms; and hence is accessible to wheelchair users.
Secondly, the entire facility is super-friendly to wheelchair users. In addition to having touch pad-operated power doors and doorbells to request assistance, the front and rear entrances have parking bays and accessible transport options for disabled visitors. There is also a lift to upper floors, wheelchair-accessible toilets on all floors, movable restaurant furniture, and the place is generally spacious. They even have three wheelchairs available for visitors.
For other physical disabilities, The National Archives offers a range of magnifying equipment for use in the reading rooms; accessible computers, with a large mouse and keyboard; sign language staff assistants; headphones; and an induction loop system.
Despite these gratifying improvements, I still have one bone to chew with TNA. They should pressurize the Kew Gardens station to install lifts and a step-free interchange between Northbound and Southbound platforms, in order to eliminate the street journey for wheelchair users getting from one side to the other. All in all, keep it up TNA and keep trying.