Accessibility vs. Preservation

This is just going to be a short discussion post. Instead of talking a lot, I’d like to leave room for you to join the discussion and express your own opinion in the comments below.

The issue of Accessibility vs. Preservation is one that me and my family discuss every time that we go abroad for the holidays: It’s the issue of whether we should prioritise the preservation of historical sites and attractions, or if we should prioritise changing them to make them accessible (by installing lifts, ramps, etc.)

Just to give you some context, here are some of the oldest places that my family and I have visited that were either fully wheelchair-accessible or mostly wheelchair-accessible:

A picture of me at the Colosseum
  • The Vatican, the Colosseum, St. Paul’s Cathedral,
  • The Megalithic Temple of Malta (the second-oldest free-standing structure on earth), the megalithic Hunebedden in the Netherlands,
  • The Louvre, the Notre Dame, the Versailles Palace, the Eiffel Tower (we didn’t get to visit the last two, but we did see that they were wheelchair-accessible),
  • Canterbury Cathedral (lots of cathedrals),
  • Ancient tunnels, old cave structures, and abandoned underground settlements (I actually visited these while on Disability Scouts Camp),
  • I’ve been inside war trenches with my wheelchair, and I once even went inside a deep, underground war tunnel (but only for a little while because I was quite scared XD)

These are just all of the examples that I could think of off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are many other historical sites that my family and I have visited on our travels that were wheelchair-accessible.  

However, we’ve also visited plenty of historical sites (or indeed, entire historical towns) that weren’t wheelchair-accessible. I can definitely see arguments for both sides: I do believe in the historical preservation of old sites – But I can also understand how important it is to make these places accessible for everyone to be able to visit. I’d hate to think of part of a historical site being disturbed to make space for a lift – But, as a major history nerd, I also know how disappointing it can feel knowing that there are some incredible places that I’ll never be able to see. I’m so torn!

If it was just me, I’d rather leave these sites like they are instead of disturbing them just so that I can see them. But it’s not just me – it’s one billion people around the world who are also disabled and are only able to visit accessible sites. But isn’t preserving centuries worth of history more important than the enjoyment of our modern generation? Once again: I have no idea. 😊

Personally, I haven’t formulated a completed opinion on the matter – that’s why I’m so interested to hear all of your thoughts. Remember, there’s no right or wrong answer: just different opinions.

I’m extremely curious to hear: Do you think that we should prioritise the preservation of historical sites and attractions, or if we should prioritise changing them to make them accessible? And why?

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Image Citation: https://www.kissclipart.com/eiffel-tower-png-clipart-eiffel-tower-champ-de-mar-0repag/

Published by thewheelchairteen

I am a black, disabled teenager living in the Netherlands, book nerd and film fanatic. I love blogging about my own crazy life and expressing my opinions about the society around me :)

12 thoughts on “Accessibility vs. Preservation

    1. I agree – that’s why I’ve been fine with some of the historical places that I’ve visited being only ‘partly’ accessible or ‘mostly’ accessible. It shows that they tried, but that there were still parts that they, understandably, couldn’t change.

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  1. I’ve never thought that much about this (I haven’t visited a historical site in a long time and I didn’t know what ableism was until recent years), but it is such a good point of discussion! I agree with Offbeat YA, I feel a lot should be done to make historical areas accessible to disabled people, at least definitely while it doesn’t affect the site too much. Of course, if it would affect the site a lot.. then that’s a difficult question, and I think it’s not one I am qualified to answer really, I mean, who would get to decide that..? I would say, if it was chosen not to make the site accessible to preserve the history, at least there should be some video-audio footage available so that disabled people can at least watch/listen to that to see the historical sight, but that would exclude people who have visual and/or audio difficulties, and it would not be the same as actually being at the historical sight. What an interesting point of discussion! Thanks for making me think about it, Simone!

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    1. I’m glad that you seemed to enjoy the intellectual challenge! I’d never thought about your video-audio suggestion before. Maybe it would be nice if historical sites always kept disabled people in mind – meaning that they tried to make their buildings accessible, but if it’s not possible, then they should try to find a subsitute like your video/audio idea. I have no personal experience with audio or visual disabilities, but as long as they’re with someone, I don’t think that a historical site not being wheelchair-accessible should impair them too much. However, if someone was in a wheelchair AND had an audio or visual disability – then I can see how finding another subsitute would be difficult. You made some great points here!

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  2. It sounds like you are very fortunate and blessed to have been able to visit so many wonderful places already. What a lot of travelling you have already done, Simone!! I love the suggestions above – I guess for some places putting ramps or lifts would not be possible, but with others it would – for some it’s a financial consideration and for others it could destroy the site – but with all the technology available, a virtual experience at the site would perhaps be an excellent solution for many… I have been to a few places where the lighting or the crowds have made for a less than ideal experience that a virtual headset or something could optimise a perfect tour… good questions.

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    1. I am blessed to have been able to travel a lot, and to have an active family who are constantly visiting places. They know how much I appreciate them making sure that everything’s accessible enough for me to tag along. 🙂 I hadn’t considered the fact that for sime sites it might also be a financial issue – but of course, not every place would be able to afford it. I understand that too. In that case, maybe this is more a question for the government and what they prioritise then. Yes, I think that I might have had a few of those experiences too where crowds, long queues, and searing sun has ruined an experience.

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  3. While I’m fully with you on accessibility, I think it’s also important to remember and understand one key detail with those 1 million disable people you mention: Not all disabled people use a wheelchair. As one of those people, I can say from experience that I sort of fall into “fine but with grabrails” territory. Basically, in dark places or on uneven ground, I need something/someone that I can hold onto (and most likely pull down to the ground with me anyway!). With that being said, I do understand how difficult accessibility can be. My father had a compacted spine and he depended on a mobility scooter, something which, if anything, I would say is even worse than a wheelchair in terms of manoeuvrability!

    Do I think we need to disturb historical sites in order to make them more wheelchair accessible? I think it’s important to understand what “accessibility” means here. For example, it could be argued that a platform just inside a door and six foot to the left is “access”, and many places do unfortunately do just that. Google the definition of accessibility, and the top answer is “the quality of being able to be reached or entered”. Note that this too does not mention reaching everything, and sadly it could be argued that if you got in through the door, then you at least had access. The other argument that some historical sites would argue is concessions. Concessionary rates are sort of like a way of saying “we know you don’t have as much money and you won’t be able to access everything, so here, just pay us a bit for the bits you can access”. I think if you argued for historical sites to excavate bits for lifts and ramps to be put in, it might be difficult if not impossible to make a case for concessionary rates to remain. One of the perks I like of concessionary rates is that I can access many UK attractions for a little bit less, and usually with a free carer. If nothing else, it makes for a nice, fairly cheap day when the restrictions are lifted!

    How many disabled people would argue that preservation is more key than accessibility? It might be that not everyone feels they want parts of a historical structure to be removed to make way and I think hat the bigger issue is that most likely, the voices of the many will sadly outweigh the few. With that being said, I do think that a lot more can be done to make history more accessible for disabled people. I visited a small village museum in Perranporth, Cornwall that had gone out of their way to have a stairlift installed, so there really is no excuse. We have drones now and amazing videographers, we have 3D cinemas and audio tours and even mini museums popping up in back streets in tiny villages. No, it might not be possible to make everything accessible for wheelchair users, but I do think that more historical sites can find plenty of ways to bring history to the general public, that are more wheelchair accessible 🙂

    Oh, and if you’re ever in Bristol, I highly recommend Bristol Museum & Arts Gallery and We The Curious, Bristol’s very own science museum, both of which are fascinating, immersive and accessible 🙂

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    1. Thank you for getting so involved in the discussion – you have made multiple valid points here. Yes, I suppose not everyone included in the billion needs a wheelchair – and I also agree that, if asked, most disabled people would say that they wouldn’t want a place disturbed just so that they could visit it. That’s why I myself said that, if it were just me, I wouldn’t want these places disturbed just so that I can see them.

      I’ve definitley had experiences before with what you mentioned about the word accessibility: my family and I have had multiple experiences where we’ve visited a so-called ‘accessible’ place where I could only enter one room and couldn’t actually access any of the rest of it. I do think that governments should improve their view of the term ‘accessibility’ and should reach a general consensus that everyone can agree on because there should be a difference between being able to enter one, small room in a castle and being able to travel through all of it with a wheelchair. I think that they should also specify which vehicles a place is accessible for, for instance: a place may be fully accessible for a manual wheelchair but it could also be slightly harder to manouver in an electric wheelchair or a mobility scooter like you mentioned.

      Your comment has certainly given me food for thought and has shown me that this issue may not be as black-and-white as it seems. In an ideal world, I think that everyone would say that everything should be made accessible – but this isn’t an ideal world and, unfortunatley, things are slightly more complicated than that. I now have more respect for the historical sites that we have visited that were accessible, but I also won’t be so quick to judge those that aren’t. Thanks for showing me a slightly different perspective of the issue! And I’ll definitley check out that museum in Bristol if we’re ever close (me and my mother love museums, it feels as if we’ve already been to every one in the Netherlands).

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  4. This is a great discussion. I don’t think there’s a simple answer. I’m for equality for everyone and if I can tour it then everyone should. I’m also for preserving history. I think some sights would be too fragile to construct lifts etc. Sometimes we just have to accept that life isn’t fair and enjoy as much as we can. I agree with dawnfanshawe that a virtual tour could be a great alternative. Thank you for your excellent question.

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    1. Thank you ❤ You're right – there doesn't seem to be a simple answer. I'm also for preserving history which was why I was so torn. After hearing everyone's opinions on the matter, I am starting to accept the fact that life isn't always fair and that there's just some places that I'll never be abe to see – but that's okay. I've also learnt that there are other alternatives like the virtual tour idea. But just like I had to accept that I'm never going to be able to walk like most other people – I also have to accept that I'm not going to be able to visit everywhere either. Thank you so much for joining the discussion!

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  5. Love the debate and the answers! I lean towards you with making it as accessible as many for possible, even though that might not be all of it, but ultimately also trying to keep as much of the history as possible. For me the most important thing is doing what they can, and then making sure on the site it clarifies how much is accesible.

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