Fifers battle hidden disabilities with sunflower lanyards

Shopping and travelling are two everyday activities that most of us take for granted, but for people with hidden disabilities the experience can be a stressful one.

Elizabeth Auchterlonie from Kirkcaldy with her lanyard. Pic: George McLuskie.

It is not always easy for someone with a non-visible disability to ask for help in these crowded social situations, and equally frustrating having to explain their disability time and time again when asking for help.

However, a scheme has been created to bring attention to people with hidden disabilities with the help from sunflower lanyards to let others know that they may need assistance.

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The scheme, which was launched in 2016, is where people with hidden disabilities wear a bright green lanyard with sunflowers on it around their neck to make other people aware that they have a non-visible disability.

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Wearing the sunflower lanyard discreetly indicates to people around you including staff, colleagues and health professionals that you may need additional support, help or a little more time.

The initiative is being backed by charities such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Alzheimer’s Society, The National Autistic Society and Action on Hearing Loss.

Several companies across the country are also taking part in the initiative with Sainsbury’s being the first major supermarket to implement the scheme in addition to multiple international airports, railways and sports venues.

The sunflower lanyard scheme was first launched at London Gatwick Airport as part of dementia awareness week and aimed to act as a discreet sign that travellers might need additional support.

Gatwick Airport had been working closely with UK charities to promote greater awareness and understanding of the challenges passengers with hidden disabilities can experience when travelling through busy environments.

Many other organisations quickly followed suit with Sainsbury’s trialling the scheme in 2017 before announcing a nationwide rollout of the scheme to all their stores in October last year.

Elizabeth Auchterlonie (86) from Kirkcaldy, suffers from a hidden disability called macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is an eye disease that gets worse over time, and is the leading cause of severe, permanent vision loss in people over the age of 60.

Macular degeneration occurs when the small central portion of your retina, called the macula, wears down.

Elizabeth first heard of the sunflower lanyards whilst shopping in Sainsbury’s, she said: “With my disability, I am blind in one eye and have limited vision in my other eye.

“It can be very hard to navigate my way around the shops, or even to count my change when I get it from a shop assistant as my eyes are that bad.

“Because of my macular degeneration, I also suffer from vertigo, so it can take me some time to adjust to my surroundings, it feels like I am walking on a moving ship.

“Because I don’t walk with a white cane, it can be quite difficult for people in the shop or the driver of the bus to recognise that I have a hidden disability.”

Elizabeth goes on to say how the scheme has made her day to day life a lot more manageable. “The sunflower lanyard is a great scheme because it makes people aware of any hidden disabilities that someone may have,” she said.

“People with hidden disabilities may need help but they don’t want to shout about it, so to have these lanyards to make us more visible to shop assistants and service personnel is a great idea.

“Now more people are aware that I may need assistance without myself having to ask for it because they can see the lanyard.”

Tim Fallowfield, Board Sponsor for Disability Carers and Age at Sainsbury’s, said: “As we work towards our vision of being the UK’s most inclusive retailer, we’re proud to be offering sunflower lanyards in all stores.

“Not all disabilities are visible, and it’s clear that a subtle signal can make a big difference in providing confidence and reassurance.

“Together with our colleagues, we hope to give all our customers the best possible experience when shopping, while working with the wider industry to raise awareness.”

Staff at these various locations will offer help to anyone wearing a lanyard and wearers do not need to tell what individual disability that they suffer from, only that they require assistance.

The sunflower lanyards are available to people with a wide range of hidden disabilities

The types of hidden disability which are eligible for a sunflower lanyard include:

Autism and Asperger’s.

Visual or hearing impairments.


Learning disabilities.

People with mobility issues such as arthritis, ME, MS and chronic illness.

What kind of support can be provided when using the scheme?

Staff are trained to recognise that people wearing the sunflower lanyard need extra help but will not know what disability you have.

Support can include things such as:

Extra time at checkouts or opening a new lane for paying.

Packing your bags.

More time for security checks and boarding planes.

Facing customers whilst speaking to help with lip reading.

Making other staff aware of behaviour issues.

Using clear and easy language.

How to get a sunflower lanyard:

If you require a lanyard you can pick one up in a participating store, airport, station or venue at a customer service desk.

The lanyards are free, available to keep and you don’t need to provide proof of your disability.

Alternatively, you can also purchase a lanyard online by visiting