Just Because You Can’t See it, Doesn’t Mean it’s Not There

Blog: Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program

You might be surprised to learn that 80% of disabled individuals live with a disability that isn’t immediately apparent to others. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program, launched in the United Kingdom in 2016, was designed to help the more than 1 billion individuals around the world with non-visible disabilities such as autism, ADHD, dementia, cognitive impairment, mental illness, diabetes, low vision, and other conditions cope with the unique challenges they face on a daily basis.

The Sunflower Program was created because often when people can’t see disability, they don’t recognize that a person may need support, guidance or extra time to complete tasks or understand instructions. The Sunflower Program offers a discreet and entirely voluntary means of letting others know that you have a hidden disability and may need their help and understanding.

Becoming part of the Sunflower Program is simple. All you have to do is wear a lanyard, sticker or wristband with the sunflower symbol on it. When Sunflower Program-trained business owners and employees see the symbol, they’re alerted to the wearer’s hidden disability and know that they may need extra help. Individuals with hidden disabilities can add details about their disabilities and special needs by purchasing personalized Sunflower cards. While you can purchase these materials on the Sunflower Program website, you can also obtain them free from participating businesses.

Some examples of personalized Sunflower cards include those saying:

  • I may need more time
    Please be patient and keep calm—I may need more time to complete an action or to communicate with you.
  • Stairs/ramps are a barrier to me
    Is there an accessible route?
  • I may need urgent access to the closest toilet facility
    Please assist me without questioning.
  • I have sight loss
    I have limited vision and may find access to visual information or
    judging distance a barrier.

A comprehensive list of available sunflower card messages is available on the Sunflower Program website. The website also includes additional information about hidden disabilities, stories from individuals with hidden disabilities, an index of hidden disabilities and a blog with topics of interest for people with hidden disabilities and their allies.

The first business to participate in the Sunflower Program was Gatwick Airport in London. Nowadays, participating businesses include “retail, travel and tourism, transport including over 200 airports—as well as railway networks, coach and bus services and ferries, education (universities, schools and colleges), healthcare, central and local government agencies to football teams, theme parks, theatres and financial institutions.”

Check out the Sunflower Program website to make travel, shopping and recreational events more accessible for you or your loved one with a hidden disability.