The sunflower lanyards (and badges) are more than just an accessory; they are part of a scheme to raise awareness for hidden disabilities. Essentially, the Sunflower Scheme helps others to recognise that an individual has additional needs where a condition has no physical signs. 23% of working age adults in the UK have a disability and the majority of disabilities are hidden / invisible!
What is a hidden disability?
A hidden disability is any condition physical, mental or neurological that is not visible from the outside which causes a disabling impact on everyday tasks. An individual may experience pain, fatigue, mental or emotional symptoms, processing and sensory difficulties, or communication differences. There is no exhaustive list, but some examples include:
Physical / medical: diabetes, arthritis, sickle cell disease, hearing loss, blindness, cancer, endometriosis, HIV and AIDS, and heart, liver or kidney problems
Developmental disorders/ neurodivergence: Autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia
Psychological / Mental health: Depression, anxiety, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Neurological: Sensory processing disorder, epilepsy, migraine, nerve pain, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), myalgic encephalopathy (ME), cystic fibrosis
Further information and a longer list can be found here.
These conditions can affect people continuously, or they can fluctuate across days and even months. Some conditions can be treated with medication or assistive technology, whereas others can’t and have to be managed by lifestyle and environment.
It is important to note that not everyone will experience a condition the same way, and some may experience more debilitating symptoms than others. This is where the lanyard comes in; you may notice somebody wearing theirs all day, whereas others may only wear it during a flare up. There are no rules!
What should I do if I see someone wearing a lanyard?
It can be difficult to understand how to accommodate a stranger’s needs, especially in public.
So, if you notice somebody wearing a sunflower lanyard or badge, please grace them with kindness. It takes courage for someone to show the world that they have a disabling condition, so please try to make their experience as comfortable as possible.
Perhaps you can offer them your seat on public transport, let them skip the queue in the coffee shop or try to reduce the level of noise if you are with a group. You may need to speak slower, or louder, or be patient with them as they read, communicate, or move around. Individuals may present with different body language or accessories to cope with their environment. For example, strong smells or bright lights may be incredible distressing.
Sadly, over 70% of disabled people have experienced negativity around their disability. Please do not question somebody’s need for accommodation, and similarly please only wear the lanyard if you do have a hidden disability.
The Social Model of Disability explains how we can approach disability compassionately. By understanding and accepting that everyone is different, we can remove biases and improve the daily experience for everyone.
How do I know if I have a hidden disability? Find out the existing support at City.
Do you, a friend or family member have a hidden disability? Come and ask us about the scheme and pick up your own Sunflower lanyard at the Union reception desk, Monday to Friday from 10:00am to 5:30pm.
Students are often isolated by and struggle to disclose their disability. We understand that managing an invisible disability can lead to emotional and physical constraints, which can in turn impact your studies. Please be assured we can support you here at City.
If you would like to chat to somebody about any difficulties you are facing, and how they relate to your studies, you can visit us at the Union or the Student Health and Wellbeing team, who specialise in Mental Health, Disability and Neurodiversity support. Reasonable adjustments for exams and assignments can be put in place for students with disabilities. We would also encourage you to discuss any issues with your doctor.
There are also many people who will classify as having a hidden disability without realising so. If you think you may have a hidden disability, please contact your doctor and the mentioned University teams.
Support available in the local community
Disabilities can affect all aspects of life, not just studying. The number of people with disabilities is rising in recent years, which can be attributed to the greater understanding of the invisible conditions which impact ability.
There are many great external resources online for understanding hidden disabilities. Some are below:
ITV has created a show to raise awareness of hidden disabilities, partnering with Scope, a disability charity.
Living with Hidden Disabilities - Progress Lifeline
Non-visible disabilities: Living with a ‘hidden’ disability - homecare.co.uk advice
Finding a Community
It can be useful to talk to others to learn about their conditions. City is creating a group for students and staff to discuss such topics. If you’d like to be involved, please email SUAssembly@city.ac.uk.
There are also external communities: Disability rights and campaigning — Scope | Disability forum
Disclaimer: the information in this article and external links is not to be taken as professional diagnosis, please seek help from medical professionals if you are experiencing any of the issues or debilitating symptoms discussed.