This interview features Pia Cabañero, a student at the Ateneo de Manila University, the Vice President for Advocacy of the Ateneo Special Education Society, and a volunteer at the Autism Society Philippines - Self-Advocates' Circle.
How did you become a youth leader in the PWD sector?
I became a youth leader in the PWD sector by way of connections with various disability-oriented organizations shared with my willingness to serve in a couple of them. I'll explain about how I came across Autism Society Philippines - Self-Advocates' Circle (ASP SACi) and Ateneo SPEED in this regard. Back in 2018, there was a conference where Dr. Alexis Reyes invited me to attend and I made friends with another person on the spectrum who suggested I would attend something ASP related as a proxy. That event turned out to be the inaugural meeting for ASP SACi, and admittedly on impulse, I became the VP of Communications in the group. There, I would coordinate with fellow officers on planning out bonding sessions with our fellow self-advocates. It's still a position that I'm holding now, though I haven't been active there due to other commitments, particularly my college education. Speaking of college, I came across Ateneo SPEED sometime after I graduated from high school when trying to see what orgs are available in Ateneo. SPEED caught my eye because of its advocacy and I see that as an extension to my self-advocacy based on my involvement with ASP SACi (and Miss Possibilities Foundation, based on when I won the title in 2018 and I do some volunteer work for them at times). I joined SPEED, and to say I enjoyed being there is such an understatement. I vibe with the people there a lot, and the environment has been nothing short of welcoming. Also, I get to be more immersed with the leadership aspects there - first, I became Creatives Head for the 2020-2021 school year, and then this school year, I'm now the VP for Advocacy. Those two positions are wildly different, but they speak to my willingness to learn and lead.
Now, my journey to being in leadership positions happened thanks to gaining more confidence in myself as I accept my disability and realize that I shouldn't put myself down to succeed. I feel like gaining this security in myself helped me be more assertive in leading, as much as I have my weaknesses like constant social interactions and organization. Like, I cannot imagine Pia the teenager to be this secure in herself like Pia now, mind you.
What are the most pressing issues that concern PWDs in the Philippines and how do you address these issues?
Right now, I would say the most pressing issues have to be the continuing stigma against PWDs and the need for further inclusionary practices to become normalized in the country. As we see with issues such as the Plantation Bay controversy from last year or so, there is still a lot of people - particularly non-disabled people - who still stigmatize PWDs through not having a care for their needs in public and having preconceived notions about them that impedes on their progress. For instance, there are people who believe neurodivergent people are a nuisance, with not wanting to care about their justified concerns with sensory overload and social interactions. This causes many people to not recognize the needs of PWDs, and there is a growing movement to address their concerns with sensitivity and consideration. For the need to practice inclusion, there needs to have more avenues for PWDs to work without discrimination and to not feel they have to restrict their identities just to appease people. We aim for more workplace inclusion, yet also encourage others to practice inclusivity when doing social and political efforts.
As a youth leader in the PWD sector, what characteristics are you looking for in a national and local government candidate? How would these characteristics enable the candidate to address the issues that you mentioned?
As a youth leader in the PWD sector (and a PWD myself), I would say that my ideal national and local government candidate would be someone who has compassion for the sector and will enact inclusion laws and practices that need to be implemented effectively. Also, I expect that the candidate would also have high integrity in their actions and also not submit themself to the throes of money and power for their own gain. Someone who is humanitarian, who really values the people they serve and puts their best interests at heart. Essentially, I would see that candidate as a reliable leader who serves the people and keeps in mind the initiatives that benefit PWDs.
As a youth leader in the PWD sector, what policies and programs do you want national and local government candidates to support? Which of these do you want to be prioritized?
I would say that the candidates for the upcoming election need to support more initiatives for workplace inclusion, like having agencies like DOLE and DTI collaborate with disability organizations to have job openings for PWDs and ensure the creation of HR practices that puts value in diversity and non-discrimination for these people. Also, I hope they think of other initiatives like creating a standard media guide for portrayal of PWDs that will help with reducing the "inspiration porn" angle of their stories, create more accessible practices involving sounds and other needs in public establishments, supporting the construction of group homes for PWDs that would help in their lives if needed, and make it mandatory to have workers undergo sensitivity training so that they are prepared with dealing with PWDs. These practices help with having more acceptance of PWDs in our society and be very considerate of their needs in the long run.
Should candidates with these characteristics and priorities succeed in #Halalan2022, how do you envision the Philippines and the lived realities of Filipino PWDs in 6 years?
Hopefully in the coming 6 years of the new administration, there are initiatives for PWDs being accomplished. I mean, we have to know that some things like workplace inclusion and making a media guide take baby steps but once they are established, there will be a better environment for PWDs. I will see them being more open to having jobs that make the best of their talents and have ease in being cared about in public spaces and other establishments. I hope for a great future for us, as long as the leaders really keep the best interests of PWDs in mind on planning and execution. Also, I see some more representation among us in taking leadership roles and being involved with major initiatives, thanks to the progress that I outlined being met.