While walking through the Philadelphia airport you might spot a variety of outfits and necklaces- but if you see someone wearing a sunflower lanyard there is a special meaning. The sunflower lanyards represent a hidden disability and alerts staff that someone may need extra assistance. A hidden disability is defined as a disability that is not immediately apparent, and are typically chronic illnesses and conditions that significantly impair normal activities of daily living. Examples of hidden disabilities are: vision or hearing loss, Autism Spectrum Disorder, neurological conditions, and many physical conditions.
The Hidden Disability Program started in the United Kingdom and is well recognized by the public in various spaces such as the airport or supermarket. In the United States, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was the first to welcome the Hidden Disability Program, with the Philadelphia International Airport following closely behind. Saron Mckee, the Director of Access and Accessible Programs started the program at the Philadelphia International Airport in the spring of 2021. There are now hidden disability programs in airports all across the United States and various countries.
Anyone with a hidden disability can ask for a sunflower necklace at the information desk in the airport without having to disclose their disability. You may request a lanyard but you do not need one to receive any services. The sunflower lanyard makes hidden disabilities more visible. There are many ways the program can help make traveling easier for someone with a hidden disability. Staff are trained to notice the sunflower lanyard and offer assistance such as early boarding, extra time to do paper work, guest passes from airlines, and help through TSA Cares.
Everyone knows someone with a hidden disability and can be a better advocate. Each person can raise awareness and learn that not every disability is visible. McKee discussed how we often have ideas on fairness, especially if you see someone go from sitting in a wheelchair to walking. It is important to realize that maybe someone has a disability we aren’t aware of even if it’s not obvious when first looking at someone.
For more information and resources please visit: https://www.phl.org/about/accessibility/access