SINGAPORE - For some, playing the piano well might be a difficult feat to accomplish. But Ms Siti Sakinah Zainal not only mastered the instrument in seven years, she did it despite being blind.
The 24-year-old human resources executive learns her pieces by listening to them and then playing back, memorising them, and picking up the musical cues from the conductor’s breathing when she is playing in an orchestra.
She was among the many people with disabilities (PWDs) who performed at the Purple Parade 2020 on Saturday (Oct 31).
Held annually since 2013, the parade is Singapore's largest movement to support inclusion of PWDs and celebrate their abilities.
In previous years, huge crowds turned up at Hong Lim Park and Suntec City to take part in the festivities, which typically included a massive carnival, march and concert. This year, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the organisers have moved the events online.
Over 2,600 Singaporeans, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, pledged in a video montage on Saturday to support inclusion and celebrate the abilities of PWDs.
Instead of a carnival, Purple Parade merchandise was sold online. And for the first time, a virtual "purple map" replaced the march as a sign of solidarity, allowing people to leave an online message of inclusion or support for PWDs at this website.
The concert was live-streamed on the Purple Parade's Facebook page, with a special screening at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre for invited guests that also incorporated some live segments.
It opened with a heartwarming reworded version of the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, sung by a choir from the Rare Disorders Society (Singapore).
The audience was then treated to rousing drum and Wushu performances, songs, dances, and a special music video, performed mostly by PWDs.
Those watching from home had the chance to win prizes and gifts made by PWDs by sharing and commenting on the stream.
Ms Sakinah, who played the piano as part of The Purple Symphony - Singapore's largest inclusive orchestra - said it was an honour to perform in the concert.
"Inclusivity is something that's very close to my heart... (the parade) is a great opportunity to show people that although we're PWDs, we can do things that normal people can do as well. And some of the things we can do, normal people can't do," she said.
Housewife June Lim, 45, whose 20-year-old son Royce played the cello with the symphony, said she was very proud of him.
Royce, who has autism, joined The Purple Symphony after his family saw them perform in the 2015 Purple Parade.
Mrs Lim said she had never expected her son to perform at such a big event.
"We're really proud of him. I'm happy that he's part of this orchestra… and doing something to showcase his ability to everyone, that he can do this. It's very heartwarming," she said.
Vice-chairman of this year's Purple Parade working committee, paralympian Yip Pin Xiu, said that planning for the event format despite Covid-19 was a "daunting yet exciting task".
She said: "The Purple Parade has become such a hallmark event for increasing the awareness of the community, and Covid-19 should not be a reason to dwindle down the support shown towards PWDs.
"In fact, we have shown that things can be done differently even in these times to spread the same message of inclusion. As we adhere to the safe management regulations and be responsible citizens fighting the pandemic, we will still continue to stand by the community of PWDs in the Purple Parade movement."
The mayor of Central Singapore District and adviser to the Purple Parade, Ms Denise Phua, said that over the years, she has seen a higher level of awareness for disabilities and inclusiveness, with many PWDs stepping up to advocate for their causes.
But she added: "Society has moved at a faster pace than many PWDs and their schools, workplaces and disability organisations can catch up. The rapid use of technology in daily living and Covid-19's catalytic impact on home-based learning and work are some examples. The advocacy for inclusion must keep up with the times."
Ms Phua said she hopes the Purple Parade will remind people that PWDs are not "objects of pity or charity", but equal members of society.
"They, like the rest of us deserve equal access and full participation in all aspects of life, such as daily living, good education, work, healthcare, mobility and social relationships," she said, adding that the parade will also help develop the leaders of the disability community here.
Speaking at the event, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who was the guest of honour, said: "Our experience during this very challenging year has shown that technology can overcome many physical barriers. But... the reality is that there are still barriers that exist for PWDs and their family members.
"All of us must commit to make every effort to bring down these barriers, and that means actively thinking about each others' needs, and asking how might we make work, learning and life more accessible for every Singaporean."
He added that the Ministry of Education would continue to make changes in the education system to reflect an inclusive society.
"The spirit of the Purple Parade must continue even after this concert and even after the festivities end... Together, we can do so much more to build a Singapore that is fairer, more equal and more inclusive," he said.