Thursday, May 1, 2014

Preserved Buildings, Tourism and Access


"I'm sorry. This building is preserved so there is no lift."


That is an excuse I got twice in one day as I attempted to be a tourist in Dublin. I spent one Tuesday afternoon in the Natural History Museum and the National Museum of Ireland to checked out some stuffed animals and the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibition that showcases the "bog people".

The last time I visited either of these museums was when I was in primary school when Bartons Bus whisked us up to the city to wander around the dead zoo and to see the famous Ardagh Chalice. I was under the age of 10 and also using crutches to get around. I was as hyper ball of energy then too so accessibility was the last thing from my mind. I was hoping to see if the experience would be as much fun as it was then for me now that I use a wheelchair.

My first stop of the day was the Dead Zoo. The entrance has a ramp and the old wooden doors open automatically and there is a wheelchair bathroom/baby changing space immediately to your left. It was a promising start and I was impressed that they managed to keep the building's exterior intact even with the adjustments made for easy access, which can sometimes be an eyesore. I wandered about the ground floor, seeing a wide range of birds, fish, rabbits and insects that can be found in Ireland. Other than wondering if the whale hanging from the ceiling was actually made out of papier-mâché, I wanted to know where the exotic animals were. Stuffed cheetahs and other things that you can't find in the Wicklow Mountains.

Surely, if they had renovated the building after the ceiling collapsed in 2007, they would have to not only adhere to fire safety regulations but also qualify for a Disability Access Certificate? No. Preserved buildings get to skip this.

I went on to the National Museum to visit the bog people. They had a ramped entrance and inside, they had a ramp down to the cases displaying jewellery, gold and copper excavated from the Mesolithic period to the Medieval ages. If anyone studied history or art in school, you'll find familiar pieces like the Derrynaflan Hoard or Tara Brooch here.  I had heard great things about the Kingship and Sacrifice exhibition and I was not disappointed. If you're not squeamish, I highly, highly recommend taking an afternoon to visit.

This was all on the ground level. Up on the first floor, you have collections from Egypt and the Brian Boru display from Dublin's Viking ear. This was all closed off to me because it is another preserved building without a lift or access beyond the ground level.

Both of these are important from a cultural, educational, historical and tourist viewpoint and as semi-state run buildings, it is amazing that "I'm sorry. This building is preserved so there is no lift" is an acceptable response to those with mobility issues.

In comparison to the National Gallery that has lifts, ramps, platforms and wheelchair bathrooms at every turn, it is incredible that two buildings showcasing the brunt of Ireland's history are closed to approximately 18% of the population and a large number of tourists visiting Ireland.

If government-funded buildings cannot step up to the mark, what hope is there for other businesses operating from preserved buildings to open up to everyone?

Whenever I go abroad, I know for certain that national galleries and museums will be 100% accessible. As sure as McDonald's falls in line with disability access, the Tate Modern, the Louvre, the MET and Park Güell will provide decent access or alternative routes for the visitor with a disability and their family or friends.

I have said time and time again that we have incredibly talented architects, engineers and designers in this country but with preservation restrictions being the ultimate blockade, their talents are going to waste and opportunities for people with disabilities remain limited.


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