Sunflower lanyards have become a popular way for organisations to spot if someone has a non-visible disability, such as dementia. But are lanyards the best way to get support, and is there an element of risk for people with dementia? We explore this divisive topic.
What is a sunflower lanyard?
Many businesses and organisations are taking part in a sunflower lanyard scheme for non-visible disabilities.
In 2016, a UK airport first introduced green lanyards with a sunflower design. The intent was to discreetly signal to staff that the wearer (or someone with them) may need more time and support while travelling.
Now, there are supermarkets, railway stations and visitor attractions that are adopting the scheme.
Over one million lanyards have been provided to businesses, as well as directly to the general public. Sunflower wristbands, badges and T-shirts are also available.
How might sunflower lanyards help people with dementia?
At the airport
Heather Roberts, who has metabolic dementia, loves to travel with her husband, Dave.
She has had a positive experience of wearing the sunflower lanyard while at the airport.
‘We've had excellent experiences with the lanyard scheme when flying from Manchester and Birmingham.
'Through our travel company, we registered in advance with airports as having a hidden disability. On arrival at the airport, the sunflower lanyard was available to pick up from the assistance desk.
'I struggle in queues, so I was accompanied to the front of the check-in and security lines and helped through the process. This made life so much easier and less stressful.'
'Being allowed to pre-board means I am settled in my seat before the melee starts. Staff have also moved me to the front of the plane for some quiet space, all at no extra cost.
'Previously on our return journeys, we’ve had difficulties at passport control. Dave does not seem to be able to go through the electronic gates when I can. This means we get separated for quite some time while Dave joins a queue to have his passport manually checked.
'However, wearing the lanyard allowed us to go directly to the passport desks via the fast-track aisle. This meant we could stay together and get processed with no fuss. The border officers have always been very helpful when they see the lanyard.‘
Why do some people disagree with the sunflower lanyard scheme?
While many are benefitting from hidden disability lanyard schemes, some people are wary of potential risks, particularly in non-secure or unrestricted environments.
Here are a few reasons why wearing a lanyard may not be a solution for everyone:
1. People without lanyards may need support, too.
We don't want staff to only rely on looking for lanyards. People with hidden disabilities who aren't participating in the scheme - either because they are not aware of it, or do not want to wear one - might be affected by this.
A person shouldn't have to make their hidden disabilities visible to be supported. Customers should be supported on an individual basis and not grouped or labelled. Not everyone's support needs are the same.
2. This lanyard scheme isn’t widely enough known, yet.
A hidden disability lanyard scheme is only as good as people’s awareness.
For a scheme to be effective at airports, it would require knowledge and understanding from security staff, airline crew and the destination airport. It may also be helpful for other passengers to know what the lanyard represents.
3. Lanyards could create a safety issue.
People with dementia can sometimes face stigma and exploitation, which may put them at risk.
There is a danger of vulnerable adults or children becoming more identifiable when wearing a lanyard, badge or wristband. This is especially the case if unaccompanied or in public areas, which are not secure.
What does Alzheimer's Society think?
It's your decision whether you find the lanyard scheme useful. Many people with dementia really like their sunflower lanyard and find the scheme helpful.
It's also the choice of the person with dementia who they reveal their diagnosis to. Someone with dementia might not remember they have the condition.
If they have capacity to consent, a person with dementia should be able to weigh up the pros and cons of the scheme.
Alzheimer's Society wants businesses and organisations to help customers as individuals. We support more awareness and training about dementia and other complex conditions.
What do we encourage businesses and organisations to do?
If businesses are using the lanyards, we encourage them to become Dementia Friends. Our Dementia Friends initiative helps individuals and organisations to learn more about dementia and take action to support those affected by dementia in their community.
Businesses and organisations should make changes that will help people with dementia.
Under the Equality Act, organisations must make reasonable adjustments for both customers and employees. Therefore, processes and procedures should pick up when people need support, not self-identifying.
Organisational improvements could also include listening to customer feedback or changing environments.
The Department of Transport has committed to reviewing all identification schemes. This is to see whether a standard should be introduced to reduce confusion.
Free helpcards for people with dementia or memory problems
Our Helpcards are a discreet way for people with dementia to get assistance more easily when out in the community. One design is double-sided with space on the front for people to record what they might need help with and space on the back for an emergency contact. The fold-out cards can include extra information such as details about medical conditions. The cards are great for helping someone with dementia to maintain their independence while staying safe.