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The Sunflower Lanyard

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You’ve probably seen a lot of them around lately, but how many of us know their meaning and purpose?

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Scheme was launched in 2016 at Gatwick airport. Designed to discreetly indicate that the wearer has a hidden disability, they alert staff that some special adaptations and support might be required for the wearer to safely make their journey.

Since launching, the sunflower lanyard has become widely adopted and recognised across other airports, train stations, supermarkets, restaurants, emergency services and beyond.

The sunflower lanyard became a conduit of improved access and inclusion for those with hidden disabilities. Wearing one, a person with fibromyalgia might be given a chair whilst waiting at the bank. Rather than being thrown out, a person with ASC experiencing a meltdown in a restaurant might be treated with empathy, with adjustments made for their comfort.

In light of government guidance for face covering against the spread of COVID-19, the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme launched a mask exemption card. Unfortunately, the similarity between the original lanyard and the mask exemption card has caused confusion, and the sunflower is now in danger of becoming synonymous with mask exemption.

Staff across various services are struggling to identify those who need their assistance from those who are simply indicating that there’s a reason they aren’t wearing a mask. To add to the problem, it’s reported that people without Hidden Disabilities and other reasons for mask exemption are using sunflower lanyards to validate their preference not to face-cover. That is, in some cases it’s being misused as a ‘free pass’.

There is, in fact, no legal requirement to prove exemption. There are many reasons a person may be exempt from wearing a mask, which include but are not limited to a variety of hidden disabilities. It is understandable, however, that some mask-exempt people feel more comfortable signalling that they have a reason for not covering their face.

So, if you’re mask-exempt and don’t have a hidden disability requiring help and assistance, what can you do? The government website has a card that’s both printable and downloadable to your phone – but official guidance states that a homemade card is totally sufficient.

Many feel that their sunflower lanyard is losing its purpose and significance. People with hidden disabilities and those that care for them face the reversal of the hard-won progress in the battle for recognition and support.

It’s time to protect the sunflower lanyard, to educate on its purpose and safeguard its value before it’s too late. If you’re mask-exempt and want to signal this, please use identification most suitable for your situation, and encourage any mask-exempt friends to do the same.

Please don’t misuse the sunflower lanyard – don’t make people with hidden disabilities invisible again.

Kat Dale is a special needs parent and children’s volunteer, living on the Kent coast with her family and staffy dog leelou. She’s passionate about creating a world that’s accessible to all. 

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