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It's Hip To Be Square

It rained relentlessly but that did not dampen the start of a new movement to support inclusion drew hordes to Hong Lim Park.

The Purple Parade featured a carnival, a concert put together by participants from 40 voluntary organisations. Also marking International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the parade on Nov 30 aimed to promote inclusiveness of individuals with disabilities and special needs.

Ms Denise Phua, the president of the Autism Resource Centre and co-founder of Pathlight School, said passionately, the event was to let “people who are slightly more disadvantaged, to actually be seen, be heard, and their presence felt. To be appreciated for their abilities, and not just talked about always.”

Ms Phua and her colleague from the parade’s steering committee, Mr Wan Kwong Weng, met nine of us from DMC’s Writing Club in person.

Writing Club members with Ms Denise Phua (centre) and Mr
Wan Kwong Weng, the co-chairperson of the Purple Parade
Steering Committee

She explained that purple was meant to be a colour for royalty and “special” people. As for the square, its four equal sides meant equal access to good quality education, employment, healthcare, accommodation, transport and “every other opportunity that the rest of us have in the society.”

Over 7,000 purple pledge cards were collected, making it a record-breaking start for an event meant as a bold and unified platform for supporters of the special needs community.

Like Ms Phua, the entire carnival reverberated with an amazing can-do spirit, with its special needs compere, performers and dancers.

The parade contingents were a colourful and lively spectacle with purple wigs, costumes and purple balloons.

Shi Nan stepped in as a volunteer for a contingent when
a child could not be found

Over at the carnival booths, special needs associations showcased their work, sold crafts and accessories. At one of them, students from Pathlight’s Artist Development Programme (ADP) showcased their artworks. The ADP is a signature programme that uncovers the artistic talents of Pathlight’s students.

According to Mr Ng Geok Seng, who teaches under ADP, the programme won the Education Ministry’s SPED (special education) Innovation Award in 2012.

“My biggest joy is to see them progress and enrich themselves through art. As they experiment with different materials, it helps them in daily decision-making,” he said.

Among his students was Glenn Phua, 17. Glenn shows a high level of detail in his drawings with his high-stamina ink work of buildings, scenery and Cantonese typography. His style is similar to that of Stephen Wiltshire, the renowned British artist with autism.

Glenn Phua of Pathlight School, at work

Other amazing people we met at the parade included Mr Jason Chee, the navy regular serviceman who is now training to represent Singapore at the 2016 Paralympics. He had lost his legs, left arm and three fingers on his right hand in a naval accident in 2012. He seemed surprised by our questions, saying he has been training in table tennis since June 2013.

With such a large turnout, the event truly felt like a celebration. It was better than expected, Ms Phua said.

She said: “The ex-convicts have their very successful Yellow Ribbon, the LGBT community has a very successful PinkDot. The special needs community does not seem to have a very common platform together, yet I know they all care for each other.”

The Purple Parade has challenged our assumptions about special needs individuals. It has redefined what being ‘disabled’ means, reminding us that we should look beyond labels if we truly believe in equality and diversity.

Written by
Bryan Kwa, Sophia Tan and Soh Shi Nan
Year 2, Diploma in Media and Communication