Sunflower Lanyard: for Non-Visible Disabilities


Sunflower Lanyard: for Non-Visible Disabilities

Anyone who has visited a UK airport in the last few years may have seen someone wearing a green lanyard with bright yellow sunflowers on it. People wearing these lanyards will have a non-visible disability which includes conditions such as Autism, Bipolar disorder, Cystic Fibrosis, Epilepsy and learning disabilities. Living with a non-visible disability can be just as challenging as living with a visible disability, but it can be much harder to receive the extra help and assistance needed as many people find it difficult to recognize, acknowledge or even understand the challenges faced.

Currently, no one from the parking industry has adopted this program.

The idea of the Sunflower Lanyard Program was conceived at Gatwick Airport in May 2016. They were aware that airports were difficult environments for people with some non-visible disabilities because of the noise, bright lights and hustle and bustle and wanted to do something to make their airport a less stressful place to visit. 

The lanyards are given out to people with non-visible disabilities, and they are a subtle, but noticeable, sign to airport staff that the person wearing the lanyard, or someone with them, may require some extra help, time or assistance when moving through the airport. This can be particularly beneficial at places like security in the airport, which can be difficult for people who don’t like to be touched, find queuing challenging or have a medical device such as a colostomy bag. 

Before the sunflower lanyards were introduced, staff would have no way of knowing that someone had a non-visible disability unless the person with it explained. There is no requirement for anyone to wear a lanyard if they don’t want to, but many people choose to as they want staff to easily spot them. 

The lanyard program at Gatwick Airport received a very positive response and it was quickly adopted by other airports across the UK. Although other airports around the world are not issuing sunflower lanyards, many still recognize the program including Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, San Jose International, Seattle Tacoma International, Istanbul, Schiphol and Cork, to name but a few. 

Sunflower lanyards have also been adopted by other businesses and organizations in the UK. In 2018, the Co-operative Channel Islands became the first UK supermarket chain to pilot the Sunflower Lanyard. In September 2019, Marks and Spencer became the first department store to roll the program out to all their stores. They were followed in October by Sainsbury’s and Argos, who announced nationwide rollouts, and in December, Tesco also announced that they would begin providing sunflower lanyards at all of their stores. 

But it is not just shops joining the program. Railway stations, leisure facilities, NHS trusts, banks and shopping centers, cinemas and visitor attractions, including the famous Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, have all introduced the lanyard program. The latest company to join was P&O Ferries who recently announced the launch of the lanyard program across its North Sea routes. 

Currently, no one from the parking industry has adopted this program, but I hope it is something parking operators will investigate further. Just like airports, car parks can also be really challenging environments for people with non-visible disabilities with lots of noise from cars, bright lights and confusing signs. If parking operators understood that people wearing sunflower lanyards might need a bit more help with paying for their ticket or finding the exit, then car parks would become much more accessible to people with non-visible disabilities.

The international symbol used to identify provisions for disabled people, like restrooms and parking, is a wheelchair ,and this is used all over the world. However, it is not that appropriate for people with non-visible disabilities who do not use a wheelchair and it has done little to break down the barriers that those with non-visible disabilities experience. 

For example, there is often the assumption that only wheelchair users need to use accessible toilets or park in accessible bays. However, the sunflower symbol and lanyard is becoming widely recognized as the sign for people with a non-visible disability and is helping to increase awareness of the challenge’s adults and children with non-visible disabilities face.

Helen Dolphin MBE LLB BSc, is an Independent Mobility Consultant in the UK. She can be reached at

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Helen Dolphin
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