Philippines International Autism Conference – Day 3
Last night, all of the conference speakers were treated to a tour of the Mall of Asia, run by SM (Super Malls) in Manila. It is the second largest mall in the country and is absolutely enormous. We were greeted by mall staff who shared a story about their unprecedented disability policy. Several years back, a teenage boy with autism was separated from his mother and became lost in an SM mall (did we mention the malls are enormous?). Upon hearing from the boy’s mother after the incident, it was clear that the situation could have been handled much better by mall staff. The management reached out to the Autism Society Phillipines to find a way to change their policies in a way that would improve the mall and the response of its staff, not only in situations of lost children, but for the mall-going experience of all individuals with disabilities. With the help of the several PWD advocacy groups, the newly-developed SM Committee on Disability Affairs created a video featuring Filipino PWDs, which is now used as a training tool for all mall employees. Their willingness to recognize the need to accommodate not only the physically disabled, but also those with developmental disabilities has made them trailblazers in addressing the needs of the Filipino autism community. The Mall of Asia and other SM Malls have since been named the “Most Disabled-Friendly Malls” in the Philippines.
One of the local advocacy groups that worked with SM to improve mall conditions for individuals with autism was the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP). Today, we met the three-time past president and current Chairman Emeritus of ASP, Dang Uh Koe. She is the mother of a 16-year-old boy with autism. Over the years, Dang and her son have been through extensive therapies and continue to have home aides to assist and work with them on daily activities. Based on her and her son’s experiences during a time when so many in the community were searching for answers to their children’s service needs, Dang joined ASP, which was started by 11 mothers 21 years ago. Today they are one of the most recognized autism advocacy groups in the country and like Autism Speaks, are proud sponsors of the International Autism Conference. Dang is an amazing woman who, through ASP, is truly making a difference in the Filipino autism community.
The conference begins today – so stay tuned here and to Twitter for updates!
By Dana Marnane, National Director Communications and Marketing, Autism Speaks and Michael Rosanoff, MPH, Assistant Director, Public Health and Scientific Review.