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How airports reduce stress for people with invisible disabilities

How airports reduce stress for people with invisible disabilities

3 min read

While some disabilities are visible, others are not, and this is how airports are now taking action to reduce stress and anxiety for travellers with invisible disabilities in North America and Europe
Travel is a privilege that should be enjoyed by everyone whether disabled or able bodied. To experience the amazing world we live in and have everyone have the chance to experience it, we have to ensure that travel is for everyone.
A new initiative by European and North American and European airports helps reduce stress for travellers with invisible disabilities such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, brain injuries, autism and mild cognitive impairment. Sunflower lanyards are issued to identify travellers with memory or sensory needs. Quiet rooms, noise cancelling headphones and assistance by airline staff are all part of the programme at some airports.  

How it began  

Sunflower lanyard and pass
First introduced at London's Gatwick Airport in 2016, the discreet lanyards are available for passengers with invisible disabilities to help identify people who may need extra help or additional time to complete a task while travelling. How did it start? The Air Carrier Access Act, which Congress passed in 1986, specifically addresses airlines’ treatment of people with disabilities. Among the provisions is making it illegal to discriminate against travellers because of a disability and providing assistance with boarding, deplaning and making connecting flights.
"Gatwick Airport created the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard programme—now in over 200 airports globally"
The group, founded in 2018 by experts in dementia and Alzheimer’s, helped add lanyard and other programmes to airports. Gatwick Airport created the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard programme, which is now in over 200 airports globally. Invisible disabilities refers to a wide umbrella covering a spectrum of disabilities that are not immediately apparent, including sensory and medical disabilities.
The purpose of the Sunflower lanyard is to help people with hidden disabilities have confidence to travel independently, knowing that they will receive the support that they may need at every stage of their journey. From the terminal to boarding the flight, on the flight and arriving at their destination.

So many disabilities

It’s a misconception that people living with a disability don’t want to or can't travel. They do and they can.
Globally one billion people live with some sort of disability and while some experience a disability that is visible, for many it is not visible. 

How many airports are involved? 

Over 230 airports in over 30 countries and 15 airlines worldwide.

What does it look like?

Melody's husband with a Sunflower lanyard
My husband used one recently when travelling with me as he has MCI or Mild Cognitive Impairment. It is a simple lanyard given out with a sunflower symbol.
Light green lanyards with a sunflower pattern are issued to anyone who wants to subtly indicate they or a travel companion has dementia or a not-as-visible disability.

Will it make me stand out?

My husband said that he felt “gently reassured” wearing it.
"The lanyards let airport personnel know the traveller may need more attention, patience or extra help"
In a subtle way, the lanyards let airport and airline personnel know the traveller may need more attention, patience, extra help or information repeated. 

How do I get one?  

Travellers at Gatwick Airport
No questions are asked, assuring that staff and crew treat those passengers with extra patience and help if needed. Lanyards are free and can be worn throughout the airport and on the plane. By wearing or holding the lanyard, passengers will be able to signal to staff and crew that they may need additional help while checking in, going through security, making a purchase or many other travel activities.  
There is no qualifying list of invisible disabilities—you simply choose to wear the Sunflower to indicate that you may need additional support, help or simply a little more time.

There are temporary disabilities or situational ones  

Carry it with you so you can decide when you want to wear it to show that you need additional support, understanding or time.
For example, if you need it for a nut allergy or something temporary (such as a hip operation) or an injury (such as a broken ankle). Also, some are permanent but do not present all the time: for example migraines or Crohn's disease.

Sunflower lanyards aren’t just for airports 

Since 2016 when the Sunflower was launched at Gatwick, thousands of businesses across a wide range of sectors have joined the global Sunflower network—ranging from retail and travel to tourism. Transport isn't just limited to airports either, with railway networks, coach and bus services and ferries included. Education (universities, schools and colleges), healthcare, central and local government agencies use the Sunflower, as do football teams, theme parks, theatres and financial institutions.
"Thousands of businesses across a wide range of sectors have joined the global Sunflower network"
Only 17 per cent of people with a disability were born with it. For many that disability is not visible and develops at some point in their life. It’s the largest minority group in the world, and it’s one that any of us can join at any time. This represents 16 per cent of the world’s population, or one in six of us. That figure is increasing due to a growing and ageing population combined with medical advances.
Banner photo: Sunflower lanyard (Melody Wren)

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