Woman studies or works while wearing a sunflower lanyard, representing invisible disabilities

What are sunflower lanyards and should I have one?

You may have seen people wearing sunflower lanyards, which are also sometimes called ‘hidden disability’ lanyards. But who are they for and why do people wear them? Find out in this article, written by Laura Marcus.

Over a billion people worldwide have some form of disability and 80% of them aren’t visible.* Many people with a ‘hidden disability’ – such as neurodivergence, hearing loss and epilepsy  – carry a sunflower lanyard as a way of communicating that they have a disability.

The sunflower lanyard, or non-visible disability lanyards, indicates to people (including transport staff, teachers and health professionals) that the wearer may need additional support. This help could be help with packing shopping at the supermarket or giving them a little more time to board a train.

What is the sunflower lanyard?

People living with invisible disabilities often face barriers in their daily lives. Wearing the sunflower lanyard is a way to discreetly make others aware that a little help or consideration would be appreciated.

The sunflower lanyard doesn’t tell anyone which disabilities someone has. It also doesn’t tell them exactly how they can help, just that they might need extra help. For example, someone with Autism might need the lights turned down, or to be somewhere quiet. Someone with arthritis might need support with additional support with moving or opening things.

How does the sunflower lanyard work?

There are many ways in which wearing a sunflower lanyard can help. For example, someone with Irritable Bowel or Bladder Syndrome may require an aisle seat at the cinema or on a plane. It’s hoped that by wearing the lanyard it will be easier for someone to ask for help. Ideally, it also means that the wearer will be asked if they need help by someone who can support them (e.g. a shop assistant).

People who wear the lanyard can also choose to give additional information if they don’t feel comfortable talking to people about their disability. Wearers can attach an ID card to the end of their lanyard with details about their condition and the support they may need.

When was the sunflower lanyard introduced? 

The Sunflower Lanyard Scheme was launched in the UK by Hidden Disabilities, in 2016. It was first launched to support travellers who needed assistance at Gatwick airport and was then rolled out nationally and later, globally. The scheme chose the sunflower because it represents happiness, positivity, and strength.

Where is the sunflower lanyard recognised now? 

In the UK the Sunflower lanyard is recognised in over 130 airports, over 450 universities, schools and colleges, the railway network, theme parks, supermarkets, leisure facilities, healthcare, financial services, emergency services, theatres and over 350 charities.

The sunflower lanyard has been adopted globally and has been launched in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the US.

More recently, businesses in France, Norway, Lithuania and United Arab Emirates have also introduced the lanyard. As recognition of its meaning grows, it’s hoped many other countries will join in.

Do many people know what the sunflower lanyard means? 

There is still some confusion, or lack of knowledge, on what the lanyard means. However, diversity training is being carried out in many global organisations, to help people recognise invisible disabilities and the support that wearers may require. As more people with hidden disabilities wear the sunflower lanyard, the awareness of its meaning will increase.

Which disabilities qualify for a sunflower lanyard?

The sunflower lanyard isn’t used for a specific disability, so people don’t need a formal diagnosis to wear one. The lanyard is often used by people with diabetes, chronic pain, autism, dementia, epilepsy, learning disabilities and Crohn’s. Other people who could find it helps them are those with mental health conditions, mobility issues, speech and or hearing impairments and sensory loss.

Anyone with a condition that makes it difficult to negotiate life outside the home, whether for work, shopping, leisure or travel, can consider wearing the sunflower lanyard.

How do I get a sunflower lanyard?

Sunflower lanyards can be purchased online from the Hidden Disabilities Store where they can be bought for £1 plus the cost of postage. There are also many places you can get a lanyard for free. These include Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Argos, and most UK airports. Some universities offer them to students free of charge.

Sunflower lanyards are given to institutions and companies that are members of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower group, which means they will have sunflower lanyards to give out to colleagues and customers. It can be worth asking organisations you belong to for a sunflower lanyard, and if they don’t have them, let them know the benefits of stocking them in the future, if you feel comfortable doing so. 

*Statistics are taken from Hidden Disabilities Insights


Related Articles

Getting around with a hidden disability

8 things you can get with Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

Top 10 days out for people with hidden disabilities

From the Motability Scheme


Related articles

Popular articles