It was one of the venues in our network that had to close the longest during the pandemic. Being located in an educational institution, Covid-19 restrictions were very strict. Therefore, the exhibition remained closed 2.5 years.
We spoke with Prema V, general manager at DiD SG to understand their adaptive process and their reopening experience. This is the interview.
DSE: What was the most challenging part of not being able to operate?
Prema: One key challenge was to remain relevant during the pandemic so that we could continue to offer programs and provide income for our blind guides. We also had to consider the phycological wellbeing of our guides during the long period of closure which reduced human-to-human physical interaction. To address this, we had our interns regularly check in with them via phone calls and we also held several virtual team bonding sessions to raise the morale.
DSE: And how did you manage it to stay relevant and maintain psychological health?
Prema: We pivoted to a new online program, Spotlight on the Blind (SOTB), which includes interactive activities to simulate the world of the blind, videos and of course, dialogue with our guides. When the Covid situation eased and we were able to do in-person programs at our center, though not in total darkness, we adapted SOTB to different formats, weaving in additional messaging to suit the clients' needs. We also offered interviews and human library format sessions where participants could hear first-hand from our guides.
DSE: Which would be your learnings as a team from this pandemic period?
Prema: We learnt to be more adaptable, and picked up new ways of working, facilitating, and running programs. We also realized that our blind guides have untapped potentials that can be tapped on if they are given the opportunities and training. For example, our guides picked up new digital skills like learning how to use zoom; indeed some had to get comfortable using a laptop first! Being used to running small group tours in total darkness, they also learnt to get comfortable at conducting programs in the light, and that also for much larger groups.
DSE: How is the team, especially the staff with visual disability, upon the reopening?
Prema: Especially our blind guides have been happy to come back and they resumed the conducting of the tours like ducks to water! They prefer being able to interact more closely and with smaller groups, for a more intimate dialogue. Some also like being able to conduct a bigger variety of programs.
DSE: Did you introduce any changes in the exhibition due to covid measures?
Prema: Yes, we have had to make some changes especially in the café. So instead of allowing actual eating, we have incorporated a simulated experience of purchasing food using cashless payment. We now also carry out sanitization thrice a day, and we strongly recommend the use of masks during the tours.
DSE: Do you think the guiding style and message of the blind guides during the tour has changed due to the pandemic?
Prema: Our guides have picked up new ideas and skills in facilitation and some of them have incorporated these into the tours. We have also found that our message can reach further, beyond the community of people with visual impairments, whilst using the dark tour as a strong experiential bridge.
DSE: Have you noticed something especial or different in the visitors after the pandemic?
Prema: With the easing of Covid restrictions, we have been pretty bombarded with enquiries for tours and other programs! People are eager to come back for in-person programs. Since we reopened in August 2022, we have had about 40 clients confirming or making tentative bookings with us, till the end of 2022.
DSE: How is the pandemic now shaping the future of DiD SG?
Prema: Thanks to the pandemic, we now have more types of programs to offer clients. Also, we believe that Covid has shone a spotlight on marginalized groups; there is more demand for programs on Diversity and Inclusion (D&I). We see opportunities in developing programs around D&I, using the tour as an experiential component.
I cannot think of a better example of turning crisis into opportunities. You see the reason of DiD SG being an iconic venue of our network. Congratulation to this innovative team and we look forward to a great operation in the years to come!
The interview was conducted by Pepe Macías for DSE.