Petir Explains: The Purple Parade & what it says about the Party’s advocacy for persons with disabilities


The Purple Parade, Singapore’s largest movement to support inclusion and celebrate abilities of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), is back.

Its flagship event takes place this afternoon in Suntec City, around the Fountain of Wealth.

It’ll be big. There’ll be a parade (and a carnival!) And if previous years are any indication, definitely more than 10,000 people will be there.

This celebratory crowd?  People and groups from all areas of life.

Government leaders will be there too. Past Purple Parade attendees include DPM Lawrence Wong, DPM Heng Swee Keat, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling.

Oh, and PM Lee Hsien Loong remains a huge longtime supporter of the Purple Parade. People still talk about when MP Denise Phua, who helped start the Parade, “ambushed” him in Parliament House for a social media photo (there was a giant purple photoframe involved) to bring more attention to the event.   

Events like the experiential “Walk in My Shoes” workshops and Purple Day at Holy Innocents Primary School and Northland Primary School are popping up all over our island too from Oct 1 to Dec 3.

What, though, does the Party’s support of the Purple Parade tell us about advocacy for persons with disabilities (PWDs) in Singapore?

It bears repeating our Party’s mission here:

“The mission of the PAP is to build a fair and just society where the benefits of progress are spread widely to all.”

The Enabling Masterplans

The Enabling Masterplans are key policy guides towards PM Lee’s vision of an inclusive Singapore where PWDs can reach their full potential.

It started 15 years ago and Singapore is currently on its fourth (Aug 2022-) Masterplan — the Enabling Masterplan 2030 (EMP2030).

EMP2030’s overall thrust is towards enabling PWDs across all stages of life. 

In this, EMP2030 is themed along strengthening support for lifelong learning in a fast-changing economy, enabling persons with disabilities to live independently and creating physical and social environments that are inclusive to PWDs. 

For example, EMP2030 plans for five new Special Education (SPED) schools by 2030, alternative employment (like “gig” microjobs), housing and care models. Placemaking efforts like the new Para Sports Academy and a Family Practice Skills Course for healthcare general practitioners feature here too. 

These are themes and highlights which build upon the foundational work of the First and Second Enabling Masterplans.

They also build on how the Third Masterplan worked towards providing caregiver support as well as a seamless transition through life stages, education and employment for PWDs.    

Beyond the Masterplans, there is added support for PWDs in Singapore’s law enforcement and legal systems as well as during emergency situations and election periods.

The Appropriate Adult Scheme for persons with Mental Disabilities, for example, ensures an adult volunteer in the room supporting persons with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability and mental health conditions during law enforcement interviews.

And at the height of the pandemic, the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations let people leave their homes to assist “individuals with disability” in daily living activities when there were no alternative care arrangements.

Singapore also accedes to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which ensures that PWDs have equal rights under the law; this also as per Article 12 of our Constitution.

Disability statistics and local attitudes

All these plans and provisions are needed.

As Ms Phua notes, there are over 250,000 PwDs in Singapore — factoring in their family and friends, this means over a million people affected by disability. 

To nuance these figures, less than three in 10 PWDs of working age are employed and around 27,000 students with mild special education needs in mainstream schools while 7,000 students are in special education schools.

The prevalence of disability in fact increases with age. A Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) survey shows that 2.1 per cent of Singapore’s student population is disabled, compared with 3.4 per cent of 18-49 year olds and 13.3 per cent of those 50 years old and above.

Persons with sensory (blindness and deafness) and physical disabilities make up half of the disability group, the MSF survey also found. The other half have Intellectual Disabilities, Autistic Spectrum Disorder and other types of disabilities.

And Singaporeans who live beyond 60 years of age will spend three to eight years disabled in some way. A frankly alarming statistic, considering that a quarter of Singaporeans will be over 65 by 2030.  

So, these pro-disability efforts are the Government’s way of making sure Singapore’s existing PWD population and their loved ones can participate in public life and the workforce fully. This while also supporting Singaporeans against those inevitable three-to-eight-years.

But, like Ms Phua has noted, stigmas against PWDs still need banishing.

“Both Lien Foundation and the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) reported the state of social inclusion and stigma. 64 per cent of the public polled were willing to share but not interact with PWDs in public spaces,” she stated in Parliament two years ago.

A mindset shift is needed here. 

“For many years, the most common views of society towards PWDs are based on 2 traditional models — the Medical Model and the Charity Model,” she added.

“The Medical Model sees disabled persons primarily as persons who need to be ‘cured’ or to be made ‘normal’. And the Charity Model sees disabled people as victims of life, deserving of pity, and need charity so that they can survive.”

“But there is another thinking model that many progressive countries adopt in viewing People with Disabilities,” she emphasised.

“That disability is a consequence of attitudinal, environmental and social barriers; and hence the removal of these barriers would enable PWDs to participate fully in the life of the community.”

The Purple Parade

Hence the Purple Parade’s inclusive and celebratory stance.

And the fact that its approximately 180 partners include a cross-section of Government agencies.

For example, the Central Singapore Community Development Council (CDC), the National Environment Agency (NEA), REACH Community Services, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).

This, as with the surfeit of Government leaders, the Parade always is about attracting support for all those bridges which need building towards the larger community.

“Persons with disabilities are not different from most of us,” stated Minister Masagos at last year’s Parade

“They have the same needs as everyone else. Many are differently-abled and their lives can be just as full in their own ways.”

Indeed, the Parade’s programmes are presented “to look beyond disabilities and celebrate abilities of the differently-abled”, as MP Phua points out.

Case in point: The Purple Symphony is always (2015-) present to perform at the Purple Parade.

The Symphony is Singapore’s largest (over a hundred musicians as of Nov 2020) inclusive orchestra. Its musicians play both Asian and Western instruments and it regularly performs at national venues like the Istana, the National Gallery and the Temasek Shophouse

“We will present you with a treat of heartwarming and nostalgic tunes that you will certainly not want to miss,” read its Facebook post on the eve of their Purple Parade 2021 performance.


“Together, we have the ability to lend a more resilient and collective voice, and create greater impact and value in people’s lives! ❤️ I will never stop striving for excellence in the arts! ,” wrote a Symphony musician on Facebook.

These posts focus on what PWDs do very well. No medical model or charity model rhetoric in them.

As PM Lee said at the 2016 Parade, “We all have something to contribute.” 

“And in a different way, each one of us is somehow special, different from the others. I think we should value that and treasure that and work together, take advantage of it so that together we can make Singapore better, and together we can be happy, prosperous and successful as one nation, one Singapore.”

Now that this Explainer’s done, perhaps it’s time for you to hoist your colours in solidarity too?

The Purple Parade’s flagship event happens Saturday, October 29 at Suntec City. 3.00pm-7.00pm. Concerts, a carnival and the chance to be part of a >5,000-strong Contingent March are there. 

Cover photo credit: Purple Parade Facebook