To Be Welcomed Here, Just Be Yourself
From left to right: Atty. Rhealeth Krizelle Ramos, Programs Management Division Chief for the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA); Gian Carla Neyra, Information Communication Division Chief for the NCDA; Richard Caluyo, Assistant Vice President for SM Cares; Celebrities and autism awareness advocates Candy Pangilinan, Troy Montero, Aubrey Miles; Karen Sagun, Executive Director of the QC Kabahagi Center; Dang Koe, Autism Society Philippines (ASP) Chair Emerita
Filipino celebrity couple Aubrey Miles and Troy Montero recently shared with an audience of co-parents their personal journey in raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Along with fellow entertainment personality Candy Pangilinan, they talked about their range of experiences—from their child’s diagnosis to finding spaces sensitive to their family’s different needs.
For parents of children with ASD, awareness, acceptance, and accommodation are crucial steps to achieving genuine inclusion in their community.
At a panel discussion held last January at SM Megamall to observe the 27th National Autism Consciousness Week, Ms. Miles remarked on how accommodating the SM mall branches were to her family.
The ‘AOK Pilipinas Live!’ discussion was a project of SM Cares, in partnership with the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP), the City Government of Mandaluyong, and the National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA).
Ms. Miles recalled how SM staff knew how to give assistance without any prompting.
“Sa totoo lang, dito sa SM, any SM, ganun sila lagi—alam nila. Kahit hindi ka artista, ready talaga sila. Naramdaman ko yun,” she said. (The truth is, here in SM [Megamall], at any SM, they’re always ready—they just know how to help you even if you’re not a celebrity. And I felt that.)
“The guard already knows, even before you enter the premises,” ASP Chair Emerita and panel host Dang Koe added.
“They’ve really got it all for you!” Candy Pangilinan quipped.
In addition, when Ms. Miles shopped with her mom, who needed assistance because of a limp, it became clear that SM was not only a child-friendly mall, but mother-friendly as well.
“Yung mom ko kasi medyo iika-ika before. Sabi nila, kailangan nyo ng wheelchair? ‘Yung mga ganun, ‘yung mga accommodation at appreciation ng mga tao,” Ms. Miles added. (Back then, my mom used to have a limp. The guards asked us if we needed a wheelchair. Things like that–the accommodation and the appreciation from others.)
As part of its continuing commitment to creating an inclusive environment at every mall, SM Cares recognizes that promoting this advocacy must start from within. A lot of resources and efforts are devoted to training SM employees in supporting customers on the autism spectrum and those with physical disabilities. After all, public spaces should be accessible to all—and everyone deserves to feel welcome.
“SM Cares shares the advocacy to help our communities,” said Program Director for SM Cares’ PWD Advocacy Engr. Bien Mateo at the discussion. “And if there’s a major project that contributes to this endeavor, it is this sensitivity training for our employees.”