What could be more apt than the location of the Museum of Possibilities (MoP) in Chennai, right opposite the statue of Sangam-era Tamil poet Avvaiyar, who in one of her axioms wrote “Thunbathirku idam kodel” (do not allow suffering). The museum, set up in June 2022, serves as a window to the world of persons with disabilities and also exhibits assistive technology and devices that aid them in everyday living.
Funded by the Tamil Nadu government, the project is managed by the NGO Vidya Sagar (formerly the Spastics Society of India), which was founded in 1985 by Poonam Natarajan, a pioneer of disability and development activities in India. Natarajan has worked closely with the Government of Tamil Nadu to conceptualise and actualise the museum.
As one walks in, what catches the eye first is the Impact Wall, an installation of revolving slides on long metal skewers that showcase the activism and achievements of persons with disabilities from across the world. To its immediate left is a small section where clothes made by persons with disabilities are put up for display and sale. The MoP collaborates with various NGOs working in this area, giving them equal opportunity to utilise the space. Next to it is an Alexa speaker ready to greet the visitor and help them better navigate the space.
Museum assistants, tactile maps, indoor navigation tools, and wheelchairs ensure ease of navigation. A therapist and an Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) expert are present on the premises to help people select communication devices according to their requirements.
The museum is split into three domains: Live, Work, and Play. The Live domain has a model house for persons with disabilities, with assistive technology and assistive devices in all the rooms. The Work domain provides customised solutions for communication and education and for the workplace. The Play area displays, among other things, indoor games that have been redesigned to make them disabled-friendly, such as tactile chessboards, ludo boards with dice, and switch-operated toys.
An evolving facility
The MoP describes itself as an “evolving facility” where ideas flow freely and users, creators, and innovators come together to make the world a more accessible place to live in. “We organise workshops and events and encourage engineering students and institutions to innovate and develop products that would make the world more accessible for persons with disabilities,” said Hethal, its manager.
The museum asks for problem statements from visitors, so that these can be communicated to researchers and experts who will then ideate and create specially engineered products to meet that need. Books in Braille and with tactile images, utility products like anti-spill bowls, adapted scissors, pull-down cloth hangers, plate guards, and adapted colour keyboards, are among the products on display.
A brick wall mounted with photographs traces the history of the disability movement in India, with every reference to disability starting from 1200 BCE onwards. For instance, one photo frame talks of Tamil poet Chithalai Satthanar writing about a homeless person with psychosocial disability in the epic Manimekalai in 6 CE.
There is a Museum Cafe on the first floor where visitors can have refreshments, but which also trains persons with disabilities in livelihood skills. While persons with disabilities come to the museum to try out different assistive devices, MoP helps others understand better the day-to-day challenges faced by persons with disabilities and realise how the smallest things can make a difference.
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