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Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme

Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme

Author: Megan Siarey (Blogger for Talks by Megan)

When it comes to mental ill health, the term ‘hidden disabilities’ can often be used. Issues arise when a disability is hidden or invisible: how can you communicate effectively that you may need additional support and patience? There is a preconception that all disabilities must be visible, a stereotype stemming from the wheelchair being used as the universal symbol from disability.

What is a hidden disability?

Watch this short video about the hidden disabilities statistics in the UK

A hidden disability is any disability that is not visible straight away. A few examples (not a conclusive list):

· Learning difficulties

· Mental ill health/illness

· Autism spectrum disorder


· Chronic illnesses

· Visual and hearing impairments

Below is another short video by the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme specific to World Mental Health Day (October).

What is the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme?

The scheme has created a short video to answer this In 2016, the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme was launched after Gatwick Airport queried how they could discreetly identify passengers who may need additional assistance. Since then, it is has become widely recognised, notably in UK supermarkets.

The sunflower symbol was chosen as it is bright, gender neutral, and holds a degree of recognisability.

Participating organisations include:

· Universities and colleges – full list available on the website here

· Sainsbury’s

· Tesco

· Marks and Spencer (M&S)

· Morrison’s

· Lloyd Bank

· Halifax (Bank)

· Bank of Scotland

· Nationwide (trialling in some locations)

· Odeon Cinemas (they recognise the scheme and have posters to notify staff, but I don’t believe they are a scheme member)

· Heathrow Airport & Gatwick Airport (full map of international airports can be found on the website. Some airports have sunflower rooms for passengers who need a calm space to sit).

The website has a location finder that allows you to see participating organisations near you.

How does the scheme work?

Businesses and organisations sign up to the scheme to become a member, gain access to training for their staff members about the scheme and how to use it, and then provide the sunflower products to their customers free of charge. Due to the pandemic, they have invested more in their online store to make the products accessible to those who may not be able to get to a participating business. There is a small charge for the products via the online store.

The scheme is recognised widely, including the NHS, banks, supermarkets, and emergency services, and definitely holds credibility. They also work with Purple, ‘one of the UK’s leading providers of disability-related training and consultancy services, to support clients working with disabled people’ for businesses that require more in-depth training.

There is so much thought behind the scheme from the design, the additional service of being a training provider, and their regular website updates on new organisations that have joined the scheme.

“The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme is run by Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme Limited which is a private company. The trademarks for the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower and the design are trademarked.” More information about this can be found on the website.

How to use the scheme

If you have a hidden disability, you can pick up a sunflower lanyard at a participating business or organisation. Supermarkets tend to be popular locations due to accessibility and volume of stores, or you can purchase products at a low cost on the website. Although it seems that all the products are offered to members to select from, the lanyards seem to be the main product offered by members. There are other products available on the store such as wristbands which are more discreet than the lanyard. Please only use the scheme for its prime purpose to indicate hidden disability. Note: Products that are sold by a third party and not from the official store or provided by a participating business/organisation are not valid. More information about this can be found on the website.

Face-covering exemptions

The scheme has risen in popularity as it allows those with face coverings exemptions to discreetly indicate that their hidden disability exemption in an effort to prevent confrontation from members of the public. However, this has given rise to people incorrectly using the scheme. However, I urge you to utilise the scheme if you need to and require it as it is such a beneficial tool.

The sunflower lanyard is not an automatic exemption card. The sunflower’s primary use is to indicate a hidden disability and was created to do so before the pandemic started.

Displaying an exemption card is not necessary in law. Make sure you have familiarised yourself with the UK guidelines here: “Exemption cards

If you have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering:

· you do not routinely need to show any written evidence of this

· you do not need show an exemption card

· This means that you do not need to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about your reason for not wearing a face covering.

Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.

Carrying an exemption card or badge is a personal choice and is not required by law.

For exemptions in different parts of the UK please refer to the specific guidance for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.” Source:

But remember!

You do not need to provide evidence of your disability to obtain or wear one. Therefore, the lanyard is an awareness symbol and cannot provide the wearer with anything additional like a blue badge would for example. Because of this, you may find some members of the public aren’t fully aware of the scheme and therefore, not understanding of its message. Hopefully this article will have provided you with the information to further explain the scheme, and also given you peace of mind about the guidelines that go on with the exemption cards.

Acknowledgement: Thank you to the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme for confirming information and for providing the short videos to include in this article. All information gathered about the scheme can be found through their own marketing, website, and further resources.

Additional Links: Hidden Disabilities Store

About the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme

Full list of Universities and colleges that recognise the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower.

Face covering exemptions (UK) – everything all in one place!

UK Government Face-coverings exemption cards/how to make one yourself

UK Government, more information about who is exempt from face-coverings,illness%20or%20impairment%2C%20or%20disability

Mind, information about face-coverings and mental health

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