Home General Info & Awareness Sunflower Lanyard Scheme For Hidden Disabilities

Sunflower Lanyard Scheme For Hidden Disabilities

by InvisiblyMe

Invisible conditions can make day to day living challenging in various ways, even more so when nobody else can see what you’re going through. The Sunflower Lanyard is an initiative to discretely make the invisible visible.

What Are Invisible or Hidden Disabilities?

Invisible disabilities, also referred to as hidden disabilities, are illnesses and conditions that can’t be seen or aren’t immediately obvious. Someone may look ‘fine’ and well, but could be dealing with one or several unseen conditions. 

Hidden disabilities can become more visible at times, such as through use of a mobility aid. Unseen conditions can affect anyone of any age, and they can have varying degrees of severity and impact on day to day activities. 

Invisible disabilities may be chronic illnesses, such as ME/CFS, IBD, diabetes, POTS, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, MS or lung disease. They may be hidden disabilities that are visible underneath clothing, such as those with incontinence, PEG feeding tubes or stomas. They may be hidden speech, mobility and hearing conditions, learning disabilities, or mental health conditions. 

While the experience of any condition is unique to the individual, many conditions can make the day to day difficult and exhausting. They can have a small or considerable knock-on effect to life, including work, leisure activities and relationships. 

Life with invisible illness can face its own challenges besides the conditions themselves. Many face difficulties with social stigma, isolation, problematic diagnosis and treatment, embarrassment, and frustrations with others not believing or understanding their illness. 

What Is The Sunflower Lanyard?

The Sunflower Lanyard is a way of discretely identifying an individual with invisible disabilities. The sunflower as a symbol looks bright and distinctive, yet on a lanyard it becomes a little more inconspicuous. It notifies others, such as shop staff or professionals, that someone may need a little more support or assistance, or even just a little more time and patience when using the store or service. It doesn’t give you a fast-track for service, access to benefits or guarantee anything when you wear it, but it does give you something that will hopefully be noticed and recognised to indicate you have a hidden condition. 

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard scheme was launched in 2016, initially developed in response to the question of how to recognise a passenger at London’s Gatwick Airport may have an unseen disability. It has since been incorporated by various establishments, stores, venues, transport providers, NHS/police/fire services, and airports in the UK, with both big and small businesses recognising the lanyard. 

The lanyard doesn’t just hope to ensure those with invisible conditions get the additional support or time they may need. It also raises general awareness among staff, businesses and the public of how certain conditions may not be obvious. It increases knowledge of the different illnesses and conditions that many adults and children can face, and the ways in which these can make day to day life more challenging. 

The Sunflower Lanyard for Hidden Disabilities. It's a green silky lanyard to go around your neck, with bright yellow sunflower heads all over as the pattern. Mine has a cardboard sign attached to the end from Trio as it was ordered from their website. The InvisiblyMe branding is at the top.

Where Is The Lanyard Recognised?

The lanyard is accepted by many businesses and services in the UK. It’s also recognised globally, but to a lesser extent, with a focus on airports and travel around the world. 

I probably received my Sunflower Lanyard in around 2018, but it’s only now, in the middle of the 2020 pandemic, that I’m seeing them quite often, predominantly worn by individuals to explain the lack of face masks due to hidden conditions.

How Can You Get A Sunflower Lanyard?

Sunflower Lanyards are only for those with hidden disabilities. There’s a degree of trust that those ordering them are genuine and not abusing the initiative.

The lanyard is provided for free (or a small fee) to individuals through the Hidden Disabilities store online. This is open internationally for those in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia & New Zealand, just use the flag symbol at the top of the site to choose your country. The lanyard also available through authorised charities that are part of the sunflower scheme. I got mine via Trio ostomy supplies, so if you have an ostomy (stoma) you can order one free here.

This scheme is only intended for those with genuine invisible illnesses / disabilities that affect their needs and abilities when out and about in some way. Please order and use responsibly. Unfortunately, news reports are suggesting that more people are falsely ordering these to serve as an ‘excuse’ when they don’t want to wear a mask during the Covid-19 pandemic without having any condition, and some people are even selling them for profit online. Do not purchase from the likes of eBay.

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Caz ♥

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susiesopinions October 21, 2020 - 4:56 pm

My granddaughter has one.

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 4:06 pm

That’s great, Susie. I hope she has positive experiences if/when she needs to use it.xx

Darnell Cureton October 21, 2020 - 5:27 pm

What a great idea! I hope it gets recognized in more places. This is something I might see the hospital since I work security. I’ll be happy to look out for it and assist without fuss, if needed.

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 4:09 pm

I hope you do see some sunflowers around the hospital. It would be great it this becomes increasingly recognisable and, more to the point, helpful for those that need it. You’re a wonderful soul, Darnell. If anyone needed assistance, they’d be very lucky to have you nearby! ????

Mrs Karen May Corden October 24, 2020 - 5:19 pm

I dashed into hospital late so lady at desk asked about s mask and I said I don’t have to wear one. (health reasons) she said get a lanyard and I said it’s in my bag. She was really supportive and yes indeed all in hospital was fantastic.

InvisiblyMe October 24, 2020 - 5:59 pm

I’m glad you had such a positive experience, Karen. When you’re poorly or have some kind of condition that makes things more difficult, or in this case where you’re exempt from wearing a mask, the last thing you need is someone to make it more challenging. I’m glad the woman at reception was a good egg ????

johnrieber October 21, 2020 - 5:59 pm

I never knew this…thanks for the important information!

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 4:10 pm

I’m pleased I could introduce you to something new, John!

da-AL October 21, 2020 - 6:13 pm

this is terrific — maybe US will take note & get them too?

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 4:29 pm

Good news – they are available in the US, da-AL! I’ve included the link to the website which serves internationally, I just don’t think they’re necessarily as recognised over there as they are in the UK (yet). xx

ashleyleia October 21, 2020 - 7:15 pm

Such a fantastic idea!

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 4:29 pm

It really is! ????

ruthsoaper October 21, 2020 - 7:28 pm

Good to know Caz. I was unaware.

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 4:38 pm

It’s a fab initiative, and I’m glad I could introduce you to something new! xx

Eliza October 21, 2020 - 7:42 pm

I’ve been thinking about buying one for a while because I’m not wearing a mask. Most shops just accept that I’m not when I say I’m exempt, which is nice, but with greater lockdown measures maybe I just should, or just order an exempt card itself (couldn’t be bothered paying even the little bit if unnecessary).

mentalhealth360.uk October 22, 2020 - 10:05 am

It really is worth having one Eliza. Honestly, I’m almost treated like royalty at the airport.

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 4:45 pm

I’d agree with the other Caz here – it’s worth getting, even if just for a little extra confidence and back-up should you need it, and it’s multipurpose for different places and occasions ???? It’s a nominal fee on the right site, the one in the post. Never pay more like on eBay.

And Caz – it’s great you get the support you need at airports thanks to the lanyard! x

Mrs Karen May Corden October 24, 2020 - 5:22 pm

You can get the lanyard free at Sainsbury’s and some Morrisons. The cards that goes with them cost 50p or 55p from hidden disabilities.

InvisiblyMe October 24, 2020 - 5:58 pm

I actually didn’t realise that Sainsbury’s provide them, that’s a good idea (providing it’s not abused, and the lack of regulation does concern me given what’s happening at the moment). Thanks for sharing this tip, Karen!

The Daily Trotter October 21, 2020 - 10:47 pm

Great Post highlighted who can use it and those buying for no good reason. I got mine 2 years ago after suffering terribly at an airport with friends as I was too embarrassed to ask for help. A year later I flew and got one so glad I did. Found it hit and miss though when flying x

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 5:33 pm

It’s frustrating to think people are getting these to use when not needed or to profit from by re-selling. That’s pretty sick. It’s a fantastic initiative for those who might benefit from it though, even if it’s just to give you a bit more confidence of having ‘back up’ for your condition(s). I’m glad you managed to get one, but it’s a shame it’s not a guarantee of the support you need. I hope the next time you go somewhere you can wear it and ask for help when needed without any embarrassment ???? xx

Jo October 22, 2020 - 6:16 am

I’ve seen quite a few lately. I think it’s such a good idea.

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 5:35 pm

It’s a fab idea, isn’t it? I’ve seen them more these past couple of months too.xx

Blogging_with_Bojana October 22, 2020 - 9:06 am

There’s no better way to represent it than with a sunflower. Great idea!

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 8:16 pm

Definitely destinctive, I love it. Such a good idea! x

mentalhealth360.uk October 22, 2020 - 10:06 am

I’ve used mine many times and it’s certainly worth having. Though I hope people don’t abuse it.

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 8:18 pm

Abuse of the scheme is what concerns me, too, especially lately. I’m really pleased you’ve been able to use yours & find it beneficial, that’s great! xx

Animalcouriers October 22, 2020 - 10:24 am

Fabulous initiative but you can see just how easy it will be to abuse it 🙁

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 8:23 pm

When I first saw this via my stoma supply company, I thought it would just be via health companies/specialists, so they’d know if you meet the criteria or not. As you say, it’s easy to abuse because it’s an open initiative. It’s good for wider accessibility, but bad when considering there are too many without morals getting them without need or with the intention of profiting from reselling. xx

Tasha Marie (Pain Warrior Code) October 22, 2020 - 12:33 pm

This is great. I came across a post about the lanyard back in 2018 but didn’t get one at the time. I’m definitely going to get one – especially for when I travel abroad. I went abroad last year and became quite sick during the journey.

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 8:26 pm

It’s definitely handy to have. You never know if you might need it or benefit from having it, even for a little extra confidence that you’ve got some kind of ‘back up’. When the pandemic is over, I hope you can travel again with the lanyard and get any support you need! xx

Jay October 22, 2020 - 1:02 pm

I hadn’t heard of this but it’s got good intentions for sure.

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 8:28 pm

I don’t think it’s as well known about in the States, but hopefully that’ll change. The underlying intentions here are definitely positive and it’s great when you read the experiences of those who’ve benefited from having one! ????

amymayj October 22, 2020 - 1:55 pm

I wasn’t aware of these but they’re such a great idea, especially given everything going on at the moment! Just a shame that there’s people out there who’d abuse it!

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 8:30 pm

I guess there will always be the minority of idiots and selfish individuals who abuse a good initiative like this sadly. It really is a great idea though and hopefully more people can benefit from having one! xx

Michelle Beltano Curtis October 22, 2020 - 2:00 pm

I’ve never heard of these lanyards, but I like the idea. It’s a shame anything like this is always suspected of abuse. Reminds me very much of the malarkey that goes on with parking permits and accusations, which is ridiculous in that case. A doctor and the applicant has to sign a legal affidavit, at least in my state. Anyway, it’s probably a good thing these are more easily obtained and I like the idea, in theory. If they become popularly known, they could be helpful.

I do have to wonder, though. If you have a serious enough condition that you can’t wear a mask, why would you go out in public and risk getting COVID? Makes zero sense to me ????‍♀️ I have terrible asthma and wear a mask for prevention. I have a friend with an extremely rare lung disease who does the same. I’m perfectly willing to admit I may be ignorant of all the reasons one might not be able to wear a mask, but with claustrophobia, complex PTSD, MCAS, asthma, and a heart condition I still manage to strap one on every time I leave my house, or I simply don’t go at all. Sorry. Not trying to make trouble. I’d genuinely like to know what I’m missing if anyone cares to respond. I’m always willing to be educated.

Thanks, Caz. Plenty of food for thought! Xx

Despite Pain October 22, 2020 - 3:13 pm

Michelle, I have a facial pain condition called trigeminal neuralgia. I know a lot of people with TN feel that a mask gives them too much pain, so they’d rather not wear one. It does cause me pain, but I’d rather wear one and try to keep myself and others safer. I’m sure a ventilator is more painful than a mask.

People with TN who’ve had COVID-19 have had their pain fire up much more. And other people who’ve had COVID have sometimes developed nerve pain conditions including TN. If my own pain was too bad that I felt I couldn’t wear a mask, I’d stay at home, but I guess not everyone can or is willing to do that.

For people with breathing problems or heart complaints, I totally agree, surely wearing a mask would be safer?

When the government said that some people could be exempt due to a health condition, I’m sure a lot more people suddenly developed TN or severe asthma!

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 10:10 pm

Liz – I’d have to agree with you – I think a lot of people instantly developed chronic illnesses or severe anxiety that means they can still go out and do whatever they like, but they simply can’t wear a mask, not even a light paper one! It infuriates the heck out of me because annoyingly many of these same people are the ones shouting across at each other, pushing past, talking in your face while they’re chatting to their pals. The true number of those who can’t wear a mask genuinely is going to be a lot smaller. I can only imagine the pain you must experience with a mask, Liz. I don’t envy you at all. It’s not pleasant for me with lung scarring/bronchiectasis, but like you’ve said I’d rather wear some to keep people safe than not. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.xx

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 10:07 pm

Mykie – It really is a great initiative, and it’s always good when you hear positive stories from those who’ve benefited from using one. That said, the risk of abuse is what infuriates me, too. When I got mine ages ago it was from a company whose stoma supplies I use, and I thought they’d be handed out to those with certain conditions or signed off by a doctor. Not the case, which of course opens it up to more people but also opens it up to abuse.

As for masks, I don’t know. I think there are some who will find them too difficult, or too traumatic, but they’re in the minority. A good majority of those not wearing masks simply don’t want to, don’t believe in the virus or simply won’t be told what to do by someone else/the government. I have lung conditions and am exempt, but I’ve been wearing a mask since the end of March. Like you, I’d think if you’re very vulnerable, and that’s why you can’t wear a mask, you’d be likely to wear one anyway and only go out for small durations at a time, or not go out at all. I get what you mean and I’d have to agree for the most part. Excellent point, Mykie, I really appreciate you sharing it! xx

Dolphin Girl October 22, 2020 - 10:23 pm

For me wearing a mask can amp up my heart rate quite a bit which can lead to dizziness and hyperventilating. After a few times I’ve stopped wearing a mask and mostly won’t. Just putting one on now freaks me out. I’ve still done so when I’ve really had to and sometimes I can breathe fine with it and sometimes can’t after even a few seconds.

InvisiblyMe October 24, 2020 - 4:02 pm

I’m sorry you find masks difficult to say the least. In real cases like this, if you can’t ‘overcome’ the physical and mental effects by deep breathing or mindfulness or whatever, then a visor and an exemption is the best option. When you’ve tried masks, have you tried the thinner, looser paper surgical types? If they’re no good, I guess a visor is better than nothing just to try to protect yourself a bit on the times you have to go out. xx

Despite Pain October 22, 2020 - 2:10 pm

The sunflower lanyard was a fantastic idea, wasn’t it? It must have helped so many people since it started. I have seen that it’s been abused recently by people not wanting to wear a mask. If people genuinely can’t wear one due to an invisible disability, it’s fair enough for them to use the lanyard, but those other people are completely destroying the meaning behind it.
Great post, Caz.

InvisiblyMe October 22, 2020 - 10:13 pm

I absolutely agree, Liz. I wanted to make this post positive because it really is a great initiative, but I get so easily angered because some people are unbelievably ignorant and selfish, both using this when they don’t need to/aren’t eligible, and those trying to profit by reselling on eBay. As the expression goes, it’s often the minority than ruins it for the majority, and the scheme will lose all meaning. Let’s hope it doesn’t get that far because there are people that really need and can genuinely benefit from the lanyard and the confidence it can give them by having a ‘back up’ should they need it. Thank you for the thought-provoking comment, Liz, excellent points. xx

forresting365 October 23, 2020 - 2:40 pm

WOW!!! I’ve never seen one of those! That’s an absolutely brilliant idea!!! I will share it if I think of anyone I know who may want one. Really cool. Thank You, Caz!!! Sending huge hugs Your way! ????❤️????

InvisiblyMe October 24, 2020 - 4:04 pm

It really is a good idea, isn’t it? It’s one of those ‘pass it along’ things to get the word out for those that might benefit. Thanks for reading & the lovely comment, Katy – hugs right back at’cha! ???? xx

Henry Chamberlain October 23, 2020 - 7:48 pm

What a great idea. I’m sure this resonates with so many people!

InvisiblyMe October 24, 2020 - 4:05 pm

I imagine it being useful for lots of folks, so I’m just trying to get the word out there a bit more. Thanks, Henry! ????

Nick October 24, 2020 - 11:23 am

Great that you are raising awareness of this scheme. As regards masks, many people are genuinely unable to wear them for physical or psychological reasons, and they risk being driven back into isolation as a result. The Sunflower badge and lanyard is a good way of showing that you can’t wear a mask and will hopefully reduce the likelihood of being challenged by shop staff or self-appointed mask police. It is regrettable if a few people are misusing the scheme, but personally I think that’s a small price to pay.

InvisiblyMe October 24, 2020 - 4:11 pm

That’s a positive way to look at it, Nick. It infuriates me no end that the minority ruin it for the majority, and now those with genuine conditions face all the more stigma and scepticism. As you say, at present it risks driving people into greater isolation, which is the last thing needed right now because it’s tough enough already. It’s a fantastic initiative for those that need it and I hope getting the word out there a little more which reach more people who could benefit from it. Thanks for the comment, Nick – I hope you’re having yourself a good weekend so far! ????

Lindsay October 24, 2020 - 9:55 pm

What a great idea! I had never heard of the sunflower lanyard, but I’m glad I know now, so if I see others using a sunflower lanyard, I will know what that means!

InvisiblyMe October 25, 2020 - 3:39 pm

And that’s why I wanted to share this – so more people know what it means if they see it, and those that might be able to use it know about it. I’m so glad this has brought something new to you. Thanks for the comment lovely! ???? x

The Oceanside Animals October 25, 2020 - 12:05 am

Chaplin: “This is a great idea! It’s a shame some people would try to abuse it.”
Charlee: “Kind of like the people who order fake service vests for their dogs so the dogs can go into the supermarket with them or whatever.”
Lulu: “What? Service dogs get to go to the store? How do I get to be a service dog? Is there an exam?”
Chaplin: “I think that career option is probably no longer open to you, Lulu.”

InvisiblyMe October 25, 2020 - 3:41 pm

That’s an excellent example, Charlee. I never thought of people doing that. While it may not be an option for you Lulu, you’re already famous so maybe a career as a modelling dog is on the cards next!

James Viscosi October 25, 2020 - 12:19 am

I’ve seen something similar to this being discussed in the cerebral aneurysm group I joined a while back, although that item, of course, is aneurysm-specific. Which also seems like a good thing to have, since pretty much by definition aneurysms are invisible …

InvisiblyMe October 25, 2020 - 4:04 pm

I’m glad there seems to be something else out there that takes a similar approach to this in making the invisible visible. It does seem like a fantastic idea, especially when you read experiences from those who’ve benefited from having a lanyard or such.

Tim O'Connor October 25, 2020 - 8:22 pm

I appreciate the recognition of these unseen conditions. The lanyard is a great idea.

InvisiblyMe October 26, 2020 - 8:12 am

It really is a great idea, and a good way to recognise such conditions & the effects they may have in leading people to needing a little more support. Thank you for reading & commenting, Tim. I hope the week ahead treats you kindly ????

barmac5 October 30, 2020 - 9:52 am

Never seen this before, it’s a brilliant idea. Thanks for posting

InvisiblyMe November 10, 2020 - 4:10 pm

It really is a fab idea, I’m glad to be able to bring awareness to it so more people learn of it. Thanks, Bar ????

joylennick October 31, 2020 - 6:29 pm

It’s good to know about this and I really hope no-one abuses the idea. For genuine sufferers, it must at least give them some peace of mind – in one way – but of course they must surely worry about contracting the virus too? There’s no completely easy answer, is there?! All keep as well as possible. x

InvisiblyMe November 10, 2020 - 4:15 pm

The lanyard is a great idea but I think it’s a whole other situation with the virus, isn’t it? Totally agree on the way something physical like this could at least provide some peace of mind. Thanks for the reading & sharing your thoughts. Stay safe ????

Cheryl, Gulf Coast Poet November 6, 2020 - 4:14 pm

Hidden disabilities can cause many problems. This is a great idea! <3 Thank you for this post.

InvisiblyMe November 10, 2020 - 4:20 pm

You’re right, they really can. Thank you for reading & commenting, Cheryl, I really appreciate it! ????

Johnny Jones November 9, 2020 - 7:31 pm

My grandkids wore these sunshine lanyards on their flight from Glasgow to Orlando in 2019 and the Virgin flight crew had never seen these before. It will take time to publicize, and I for one I grateful that you have highlighted them on your fantastic blog. Thanks

InvisiblyMe November 10, 2020 - 4:22 pm

I’m glad your grandkids had them but what a shame the flight crew were clueless as to what they were! The main idea was to at least ensure travel companies are aware of them and the ways in which they can help those wearing them. That’s such a shame. I wonder whether things have changed in the past year? I hope so. Maybe I’ll drop Virgin an email and ask if they’re making staff aware of the lanyard. I hope your grandkids managed okay with their flight in the end. Thank you for reading & commenting, Johnny, I really appreciate it. Stay safe! ????

Johnny Jones November 12, 2020 - 9:01 am

Hi and thanks for your kind comments. I have already written to Virgin, and to their credit, they assured me that they have rolled out awareness training for all their staff, in this regard of identifying hidden disabilities. When checking in, the Virgin staff put a ribbon inside the person’s passport to further help. All a learning curve and will take time to spread the word.
Stay safe

InvisiblyMe December 9, 2020 - 4:01 pm

A learning curve indeed but it’s always so, so good to hear that positive changes are underway. I’m glad Virgin have been responsive to this, well done for your efforts Johnny because without people like you the steps forward would never happen.

Hamish November 17, 2020 - 10:59 am

This is a great way to provide a bit more peace of mind when going out, for those for which everyday activities can require a lot of thought and energy. As someone who has struggled deeply with depression – going through a better patch at the moment which I am thankful for – I appreciate how useful a sunflower lanyard would be. Thank you for sharing. I hope those who benefit from them can access them easily, and the world chooses kindness to assist those who require it. ????

InvisiblyMe December 9, 2020 - 3:59 pm

Absolutely, even those everyday activities that others may not give a second thought to can become very difficult and challenging. I’m sorry you’ve had such struggles with depression too, but it’s so good to hear it’s a better time at the moment. I hope you can ride that better wave for as long as possible, Hamish ????

Holly November 23, 2020 - 10:17 pm

Oh wow, Caz, you taught me something today! I had no idea that there was such an initiative but I’m so grateful there is! What a beautiful idea to try and help those who are easily misunderstood feel a bit more understood. I hope and pray that this becomes a widely recognized symbol of compassion.

So sorry to hear that these are being abused by those either seeking attention or not wanting to wear a mask during the pandemic. (sigh)

Thank you for bringing awareness to this incredibly important topic! I love the cheeriness of the sunflower as a symbol of hope and brightness. God bless those who started this initiative. ❤

InvisiblyMe December 9, 2020 - 3:56 pm

I’m so pleased I was able to bring this to your attention, Holly! I think it’s an underrated scheme so I hope more people can find out about it should they, or their loved ones, ever need to use it. You’re right, the brightness of the sunflower makes this a cheery symbol of compassion ???? xx

Mona December 9, 2020 - 2:20 am

This is immense! Why is this not talked about more. Well done Caz for bringing more attention to this x

InvisiblyMe December 9, 2020 - 3:12 pm

It’s such a good idea, isn’t it? I hope this can help to let even just a couple more people know about the scheme should they ever need to use it. Thanks for the comment, Mona!  ♥

Marilyn January 16, 2021 - 3:41 pm

Thanks for sharing this Caz,
I went straight to the site, chose lots of goodies, but the P&P policy was so confusing (without explaining what it was) that I abandoned it.
Shall return and try again. I was getting so tired, but the stuff was good so I’ll go back.

Hope you’re well,
Maz x


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