MANILA, Philippines — The recent incident of a resort deflecting blame for its ableist treatment of a mother with a child with special needs is an opportunity to open the conversation of disability sensitivity training in establishments, advocates for the autism community said on Wednesday.
This comes after Mai Pages, a mother of a child with special needs, posted a review on TripAdvisor detailing her experience at a certain Plantation Bay Resort and Spa in Cebu went viral on social media.
In her post, the mother wrote that she and her child with autism were called out by lifeguards because her son was "squealing with delight" at the water. Pages slammed the resort, which markets itself as "not just a resort, but an experience," as being "discriminating" and "not an ideal place for a child with special needs."
In a statement, nonprofit Autism Society Philippines scorned the establishment for its response, pointing out that it should have made the extra effort to be understanding. "A disability-compassionate and sympathetic hospitality organization would have gone the extra mile to understand their customer's perspective. Instead, the resort went the other direction," it said.
"For the record, for many families who live with autism, we are hyper-aware of our children's challenges. All too often, we are overly apologetic for their lapses; and are quick to retreat after seeing the familiar look of judgment in the eyes of the public."
All this comes as the nation celebrates National Human Rights Consciousness Week, and days after the commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities for 2020.
— Autism Strong Philippines (@AutismStrongPH) December 8, 2020
How management responded
In a now-deleted response to the review on Trip Advisor, the resort’s shareholder, one Manny Gonzalez replied to the mother and accused her of lying, claiming that "uncontrolled shouting is not a symptom of autism."
"Google 'Autism' and verify this for yourself. Therefore this parent is most likely deliberately lying, or has been given an incorrect diagnosis of autism, when what the child more likely has is a lack of discipline due to simple parental neglect,” he commented.
"Children scream because they hope to attract the attention of parents who customarily ignore them, or because they hear screaming between their parents at home. If their parents would pay attention to them, and would refrain from screaming at each other, there would be no need for the child to scream."
"The first part of the response is ignorant of what the autism spectrum is — even going as far as to shame the parent and question the veracity of the child’s diagnosis," Autism Society Philippines said.
No disabled person shall be discriminated on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation. The following constitute acts of discrimination: denying a disabled person, directly or through contractual, licensing, or other arrangement, the opportunity to participate in or benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of an entity by reason of his disability;
Section 4(f) of the Magna Carta also says: "Social barriers include negative attitudes which tend to single out and exclude disabled persons and which distort roles and inter-personal relationships."
But the resort's shareholder saw things differently, also writing: "Every customer must be respected, not just one parent and one child. Most of our guests fully understand and agree with this idea: it is not a resort for noise-makers, regardless of their reason. To demand that all the customers just shut up while one child just screams his head off? That's not our idea of fairness."
'Stigma towards persons with autism'
Veteran journalist Karen Davila also slammed the establishment's non-apology to the mother, calling Gonzales a "disgrace to the tourism industry."
In a separate statement, Autism Strong PH, not to be confused with Autism Society Philippines, also said that the incident was an opportunity for additional disability sensitivity training and a review of the resort's policies and procedures.
"The incident at Plantation Bay involving a child with autism was really uncalled for, especially the response of the management. The lifeguards of the resort did not deal with the situation promptly involving the child. Unfortunately, the primary stakeholder has no knowledge when dealing with persons with autism," the organization wrote.
"His response to the complaint of the parent was inappropriate. His remark continues to grow the stigma towards the PWA community. There should be a proper investigation involving his remarks. They should conduct sensitivity training for all personnel when dealing with PWAs. That way, it will be a resort friendly for them. This will prevent future incidents like this," it added.
I stand up for all parents of kids with special needs. I understand our responsibility to manage the behaviour of our children, no parent deserves to be treated in this manner. A non apology apology just hurts even more.
— Karen Davila (@iamkarendavila) December 9, 2020
Gonzalez has since issued a secondary apology for the incident, but not before highlighting that the hotel's policy at "keeping noise levels down in the pool" was geared towards the safety and relaxation for all guests. "We try to apply this policy even-handedly. As a result of that policy, in almost 25 years we have never had a child die here. A mother's pride is important, but more important are the lives of the children who come here," he wrote.
"This sad event is an opportunity for disability sensitivity training; and a review of the resort’s policies and procedures for compliance to RA 7277, the Magna Carta for Persons with Disability. Beyond the public relations mess that this is (driven by an ill-crafted response), the noble men and women who serve to please their customers at the Plantation Bay Resort And Spa in Cebu can do better," Autism Society Philippines said.
"For parents who find themselves in this situation, know that the law is on your side," it added, reminding the public that violations of the law are grounds for civil complaints in court or with the Commission on Human Rights.
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