Pandemic creating confusion over ‘hidden disabilities’ symbol


THE Sunflower Lanyard is designed to let businesses, professionals and people know that someone with invisible disabilities may need a little extra help – but wearers of the lanyard say it is being affected by confusion caused by the pandemic.

The scheme is designed to be used for people with a non-obvious disability. Hidden disabilities do not have any physical signs and can include learning difficulties, mental health issues as well as mobility or chronic Illnesses. However, some users have had to stop wearing the lanyard because of people confusing it as en exemption from wearing masks.

The scheme has been around since 2016 and since then it’s more prevalent than ever. But with face coverings being mandatory in the UK, some people are using the Sunflower Lanyard as a form of exemption from wearing a face covering. These actions are changing the real meaning of the scheme and it is having an impact on those who use the Lanyard every day.

“People think it has something to do with mask exemption, but it has absolutely nothing to do with mask exemption”

A spokesperson for Hidden Disabilities said “The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is here to demonstrate that a person has a invisible health condition and to enable businesses, organisations and the public to recognise this persons invisible condition and to give that person the time, patience or understanding that they may need.

“In regard to face coverings, we have worked to reinforce the message of the distress and difficulties of wearing a face covering for people with certain health conditions.  By showing a person is legitimately exempt by means of displaying a Hidden Disabilities Sunflower face covering exempt card, we have helped numerous people from being challenged from businesses and members of the public for not wearing a covering.”

“I have gone out wearing my lanyard with a mask and I’ve had people come in my face and say “Why are you wearing that, it’s a mask exemption lanyard” Amanda Hall said.

Amanda uses the sunflower lanyard for medical reasons. “I have both autism and epilepsy; I originally got the lanyard when I was traveling after getting into a state during a delay at an airport.

“People think it has something to do with mask exemption, but it has absolutely nothing to do with mask exemption. It’s been around since 2016.”

Amanda is not alone in talking about her experience. “I had a bus driver comment ‘it’s nice to see someone wearing one of these lanyards and a mask’ I told him that it has nothing to do with the mask but rather that I may need some extra help”. Chris Morton said: Chris is a supermarket colleague at Morrisons Birtley and used the Sunflower Lanyard.

“I have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and I am deemed to be clinically vulnerable. If I caught COVID it probably would hit me worse. I have seen customer use it to avoid wearing a mask. I’ve even seen people use it to flout social distancing”. Chris Said.

“The problem is that so many people are wearing them they think “oh someone is wearing one (Sunflower lanyard) and go about business as normal” Chris Said.

“I started wearing the lanyard because it is not obvious that I have autism. Lydia Wilkins said. “I started using the lanyard in 2020 before the pandemic hit and since the pandemic, I think there has been an unhelpful co-option of the scheme, I have seen very adamantly anti-mask scream at shop workers claiming ‘COVID is a hoax’ while wearing them”.

“There’s no verification when you get the lanyard, so they use it as a symbol that they don’t have to wear the mask”.

“I’ve had to temporarily stop using the scheme because of people using it to get around wearing a face covering” Ray Young Said. “I struggle to do a big shop at a supermarket as I tend to blank out with autism. At one point the staff would generally recognise there was a problem, and they would help”.

“too many people now wear the lanyard to get around wearing a mask and the scheme has lost its original meaning”.

the scheme has helped me so much from traveling and then when in the shops. Since COVID came along it has become nothing more than “No mask lanyard” and not what it was meant to be. I do not get asked when I go shopping if I need help while wearing it and its frustrating.

“The Lanyard has lost its meaning and I’m sick of being told that I don’t need to wear a mask with the lanyard.” Theresa Johnson said.

Recently I was confronted in store, so I ripped it off and left the shop. I have never felt to upset and angry. Since COVID it has become a ‘No mask lanyard and not what it is meant to be” Theresa Said.

The issue of mask exemption had been brought into the spotlight when actor and political activist Laurence Fox who had purchased a COVID exemption lanyard in January. The lanyard was very similar to the Sunflower Lanyard.

One Comment

  1. I got my wife a lanyard from Morrisons to hang my wife mask exemption Card, She is 71 with disabilities, She had both hips replaced, one is now failing, She had a defragged on her elbows, COPD asthma , But we never knew about this lanyard symbol, So I will lookout for a new one if it upsets people so much

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