Traveling with children has its challenges for any family, but traveling with children who have disabilities can be particularly tough. This can be even trickier when a child’s disabilities are hidden or invisible—a condition that cannot be seen or may not be apparent to others, but that can be limiting or challenging. That’s why an effort called the Hidden Disability Sunflower program is bringing more awareness to these challenges.
By wearing a green lanyard speckled with bright yellow sunflowers, people with hidden disabilities can discreetly alert others that they may need extra assistance or understanding.
Where to get—and wear—a Sunflower Lanyard
Sunflower lanyards are available to passengers at Dallas Love Field Airport at no cost. You can pick them up at the Main Information Booth across from the TSA Checkpoint. Don’t have a hidden disability but want to show your support? Wear the “I Support” lanyard to show your understanding.
While the Sunflower members are primarily airports, you can wear the lanyard anywhere you’d like to communicate an invisible disability—shopping, dining or at a playground.
You can get a sunflower lanyard for free from any Sunflower member, and you don’t need to disclose your disability to get a lanyard or receive support.
The program, which first launched in 2016 at an airport in Britain, is now in nearly 200 airports worldwide, including 77 in the United States and four in Texas. Dallas Love Field Airport is among the latest to join the network, and the first in North Texas. Others in Texas include Austin-Bergstrom, El Paso and Houston, and the program is coming soon to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Globally, the Sunflower has been launched locally in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK and the UAE. Learn more at hiddendisabilitiesstore.com.
Why is the lanyard needed?
Air travel can be stressful for anyone, but for someone with a disability, the experience can be even more challenging. Airports are chaotic, crowded and noisy. Navigating the ticketing, security and long walks to far flung gates can be overwhelming. Airports that participate in the sunflower program commit to educating employees in the decorum and skills to approach a person wearing one of the lanyards. At the very least, the lanyard communicates to airport staff that the traveler may need a little more assistance, time or space.
People with disabilities can also utilize the TSA Cares program, a hotline you can call in advance and request to be met by a trained airport agent for assistance through the security screening process.
What is an invisible disability?
If someone is using a wheelchair or has Down’s syndrome, their disability is unlikely to go unnoticed. But hidden disabilities are not immediately apparent to others, and according to the Invisible Disabilities Association, this can lead to misunderstandings, false perceptions or judgements.
But of the 1 in 4 people in the U.S. with some type of disability, about 10% of those are invisible disabilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They can be physical, visual, auditory, or neurological and range from ADHD or learning difficulties, to diabetes, asthma, or mental health conditions. Hidden disabilities can be temporary, situational or permanent. Among children, autism is one of the most prevalent invisible disabilities, affecting 1 in 36 kids in America.
RELATED: Talking to Your Child About Their Disability Diagnosis
Top image courtesy of Hidden Disability Sunflower