If you are in Chennai during the Marghazhi season, then you have a chance to listen to some of the best exponents of both classical dance and music. Some sabhas have also been trying to make barrier-free access possible over the past few years. Keeping in mind changes in its audience demographic, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan is well on its way to becoming elderly-friendly and also convenient for persons with disabilities.

The main hall is being renovated at a cost of Rs. 2.80 crore and the work is expected to be completed in two months. K. N. Ramaswamy, Director of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai notes that over the years, the profile of the audience has changed. “There are more senior citizens. People find it difficult to walk in. In fact, at several events, those on the dais are also elderly and hence, we have ramps leading into the hall and also, the stage. The toilets are accessible from the hall itself,” he explains.

There are other features too as T.S. Saravanan, director and chief architect, AAD architects, Chennai, explains. “The entire auditorium is barrier-free. When there is a requirement, about 12 seats in the first row can be removed to accommodate wheelchairs. Otherwise, there are two wheelchair parking spots adjacent to those seats which have arm rests that can be lifted up. The aisles will not have steps, only ramps,” he says. The toilets will also become disabled-friendly.

Mridangam Vidwan Erode Nagaraj, who uses a specially modified vehicle and needs a wheelchair indoors, says that more and more auditoriums must become disabled-friendly. “If a hall is disabled-friendly, I have that much less trouble going there. I need not worry about moving around too,” he says.

There are other halls in the city that have barrier-free environments. The Music Academy was one of the first organisations to do so, says historian V. Sriram. “Over the last seven years, both the main and mini halls have been changed for persons with disabilities.” 

Architect P.T. Krishnan, who re-designed the Academy, says wherever possible, steps were eliminated or ramps added. “Old buildings cannot be made 100 per cent access-free. There are design limitations,” he explains.

However, not every sabha in the city is barrier-free. Smitha Sadasivan (33), who has multiple sclerosis and has difficulty in climbing stairs, says she avoids places without ramps. Maithri Educational & Charitable Trust founder trustee Rajaram Shreedhar, who is wheelchair-dependent, says that on most occasions, he parks his wheelchair on the aisles.

Sowmya Simhan of Sukrithi Social Foundation says most sabhas have ramps only on the outside. “Sabhas don’t even create temporary access during the season. I am more comfortable watching concerts on TV,” she says.

Y. Prabhu, Secretary, Krishna Gana Sabha, says sabhas need to become disabled-friendly. “If they cannot afford it due to high maintenance costs, they should approach NGOs that provide assistance,” he adds.

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