#PWDeSaSM: Creating inclusive spaces through SM’s sensitivity training

When people are accepted, they become empowered and feel appreciated and recognized. 

In celebration of the International Day of Sign Language, SM Cares of the SM Group, continues its mission to provide inclusive spaces as a mall for all through its yearly sensitivity training for its frontline employees. The training equips them with skills to better serve customers with different needs or persons with disabilities (PWDs). 

Engr. Bien Mateo, Senior Vice President for Mall Operations and Program Director of SM Cares Disability Affairs noted the company’s dedication to creating positive impacts within its communities.

SM Mall of Asia (MOA) security personnel Jay Jess Aquino and Rebecca Flores pose with their sensitivity training manuals on how to care for patrons with different needs.

“Genuine inclusion starts with us,” he said. “One of the integral steps in line with this effort is by conducting sensitivity training for our employees.”   

A PWD-friendly mall for all 

Apart from SM Supermalls’ facilities, the shopping malls of SM Prime Holdings, Inc. promotes inclusive spaces through features such as ramps, handlebars in comfort rooms, and Braille-labeled elevator buttons. The efforts to promote inclusivity within the malls also rely on equipping its workers with the knowledge and best practices for assisting PWDs. 

Jay Jess Aquino, a security personnel in SM Mall of Asia for 15 years shared how helpful the annual sensitivity training is on learning how to respectfully assist customers who have different needs.

With daily interactions from different PWD communities, he shared how a simple act of acknowledging guests on the autism spectrum or persons with Down syndrome every time they playfully salute them goes a long way. 

Pagpasok po nila sa mall, sumalaudo po sila sa amin mga guards, he said. “Natutuwa rin po kami kasi kahit sa simpleng pag-acknowledge po namin, eh napapangiti na po namin sila.”

(They salute us guards as they enter the mall. We are also pleased because even with our simple acknowledgment, we can already make them smile.)

As SM frontliners, they must be quick to recognize guests with mobility issues to provide alternative solutions such as wheelchairs and even drive them via golf karts when available. The mall’s administration office is also open to serve as a safe and quiet space for guests who may be sensitive to several sensory inputs.  

His colleague and fellow security staff Rebecca Flores in Mall of Asia expressed how the sensitivity training has made her more confident to assist patrons with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) over her nine-year experience in SM. 

She emphasized the importance of maintaining open communication and building rapport with customers on the spectrum before they enter. This approach helps dismiss any notion that security guards are intimidating.

Opo. Sa entrance pa lang talaga hina-hi (saying hi/hello) na namin sila,” Ms Flores said.Nagrerespond silaBumati ka sa kanila para di sila matakot sa guard. Para kahit mawala sila, di sila matatakot lumapit sa guard. Kasi maalala nila ay ito yung bumati sa akin.”

(We see to it that we give them a lively greeting as they enter the mall because they remember you. Even in the unfortunate event of being lost in the mall, they won’t hesitate to approach you to find their way since they will recall the friendly face who said hi to them.)

Ms. Flores even recalled to her initial experience when a child on the autism spectrum playfully kicked her. She remembered how shocked she was during the exchange. And although the child’s parent immediately explained the situation, Ms. Flores recalled in jest how the child tried to get her again on the way out. 

“Di ako nagalit. Mas nagpasalamat ako sa training kasi may kaalaman kami,” she said.

(I didn’t get mad. I’m thankful because the training imparted learnings on this.)

SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Supermalls and a division of SM Foundation, Inc. ensures a barrier-free and disability-inclusive environment for PWDs in all of its malls nationwide.