Invisible Illness Week The Sunflower Lanyard Scheme by Kate Stanforth | 18 October 2019


By Kate Stanforth, Social Media Manager, ME Association.

The Sunflower Lanyard Scheme was developed by designers Tabbers Limited, alongside OCS UK group, who provide support to UK airports.

Over 10,000 lanyards have now been collected since the launch in 2016 and the scheme has expanded from airports to supermarkets, railway stations and sports venues.

On top of this, the lanyards are also starting to be recognised at international airports, cinemas, shopping centres and by several NHS trusts.

What Kind Of Support Can Be Provided When Using The Lanyard Scheme?

Staff are trained to recognise that people wearing the sunflower lanyard need extra help but will not know what disability you have. Support can include things such as:

  • Extra time at checkouts/opening a new lane for paying
  • Packing your bags
  • More time for security checks and boarding planes
  • Facing customers whilst speaking to help with lip reading
  • Making other staff aware of behaviour issues
  • Using clear and easy language

And much more! LNER (London North Eastern Railway) even have staff with red sunflower lanyards ‘Sunflower Ambassadors’ who have received extra training to help those on the scheme.

And, Manchester airport have their very own ‘Sunflower Room’ for those who need somewhere quiet to wait before boarding.

My Experience With The Scheme

Without my wheelchair, I look like a completely ‘normal’ 25-year-old. I often struggle with people not believing I’m ill and therefore not getting the help I need. I picked up my sunflower lanyard at my local LNER station to trial out and when parted from my wheelchair on the train, felt a lot more confident.

I enjoyed watching a number of other passengers get on to use the ‘limited mobility’ seats, who to you and I looked completely normal, but out of one man’s bag he got his lanyard, and no one approached to ask him to move.

For me, the scheme gives me confidence. Confidence that I’m not going to be tutted at for sitting in a disabled seat when I’m not by my chair and confidence that I’m going to be treated with a little more understanding about my hidden battles. And extra help never goes amiss!

Am I Eligible For A Sunflower Lanyard?

The types of hidden disability which are eligible for a sunflower lanyard include:

  • Mobility issues (e.g. Arthritis, MS, ME, chronic illness)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Dementia
  • Autism and Asperger’s
  • Visual and hearing conditions

How Do I Get A Sunflower Lanyard?

You can pick up a sunflower lanyard at any participating venue, station, store or airport at the customer service desk or checkout. Alternatively, you can buy one at www.hiddendisabilitiesstore.com.

You do not have to provide proof of your disability when getting a sunflower lanyard, which is one of the many reasons I love the scheme as I find I spend my whole life having to ‘prove’ my condition. Although I hope that because of this people won’t misuse the initiative!

Overall Thoughts

The scheme is growing fast; from one airport to now supermarkets, stations, venues and more.

I don’t think it will be long before it will be an international recognisable symbol for people with hidden disabilities and I certainly hope that more organisations join.

It would be amazing to get the government’s backing for a scheme like this and include more training opportunities around people with hidden disabilities, but for now I’m pleased to see it is starting to make an impact on many people’s lives.

If you have a hidden disability, I’d definitely recommend picking up a free lanyard.

Get Your Free Sunflower Lanyard

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