As an autism and SEN advocate, mum of an awesome autistic son, and autistic woman myself, I just want to say… please don’t ruin this scheme for everyone!
Note: it isn’t just the Sunflower Scheme being abused, but they’re the most well known.
One notable thing that the pandemic has done is raise the profile of the wonderful Sunflower Lanyard scheme, giving it some great additional publicity and awareness. However, it could be argued that this extra publicity has actually had a detrimental effect on the credibility of the scheme, as it has become way too open to abuse – I’ll explain why soon enough.
What is the sunflower lanyard scheme?
The Sunflower Scheme was launched in 2016 in order to create a discreet, yet well publicised system whereby invisible disabilities were indicated to help people to avoid potentially awkward situations – for example, many young people with stoma bags have faced horrible comments for using disabled toilets, and people who have had amputations that are hidden under their clothes or by excellent prosthetics have been known to find themselves under attack for using disabled parking spaces even with a visible blue badge! It’s also great for people with less ‘visible’ disabilities like autism, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, MS, etc.
(Shoutout to my fellow autism & EDS zebras!)
On the whole, this scheme has worked marvellously, with major supermarkets like Tesco becoming stockists.
With the introduction of face mask wearing due to the pandemic, the UK government declared there to be a list of a small demographic of people who are legally EXEMPT (much to the outrage of some people who simply don’t ‘get it’, sadly) from wearing masks – this tiny minority are mitigated by the very large number of people who are able to wear theirs.
The sunflower lanyard has been very valuable for people needing to do important errands but unable to wear a mask due to their disability, and the lanyard indicates this without any awkward questions (usually), whilst still being used by those who are able to wear theirs, but wanting to indicate their invisible disability for other reasons. I’m able to wear a mask, and I do, but those who seriously struggle find the lanyard such a lifeline.
However, with the pandemic came the problems…
People with genuine disabilities are becoming increasingly fed up, and wrongly targeted in public as awareness of the fact that people are abusing the scheme grows.
A small but insidious group of individuals have well and truly HIJACKED this brilliant scheme because fundamentally there is NO legal way that anyone can prove that you aren’t exempt when wearing one, technically no one is allowed to ask for proof of your disability! I’m in two minds about writing this at all because by doing so, I’m potentially giving people ideas but at the same time, this needs to be discussed more, I think, because it’s outrageous. It needs exposing. Here’s a good example of what I mean…
I’m not getting into the ins and outs, rights and wrongs of mask wearing rules, but abusing a scheme meant for disabled people is really pretty gross.
Whilst the scheme is marvellous, it’s too open to abuse, clearly.
The increased awareness of this scheme due to the Covid-19 pandemic has led to many online postings by anti-maskers where they’re bragging about getting their lanyard so that they can go about their life mask-free without being questioned, but this utterly undermines the entire purpose of the lanyards, and has now hugely impacted the credibility of the scheme because that seed of doubt has been planted in people’s minds.
Before covid, you could wear a sunflower lanyard and people wouldn’t question if you’re ‘faking it’ usually. Now, not as much the case, and they’re often eyed with suspicion.
It’s such a shame, isn’t it?
My personal view on the scheme is now one that I find disappointing but necessary… to avoid this abuse, proof of disability should be provided when applying, in my opinion. Usually, most of us would have some form of documentation available or be able to get a note from a GP. But is it too late? Has the damage already been done?
Fake versions and lanyards at inflated prices are also being flogged elsewhere online, another example of abuse of the scheme!
A spokesperson for Hidden Disabilities told Fabulous Digital:
“We are aware that sadly, some people are abusing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Scheme by reselling our lanyards and other wearables at inflated prices for profit on sites such as Ebay and Amazon.
“We have registered with eBay as the verified retailer of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower product and owners of the trademark and copyright to restrict the reselling of them.
“They have image recognition software that identifies a copyrighted item and blocks it from being sold. We monitor the reselling of our own products regularly and sellers are reported to Ebay for violation of their policies.
“It is worth noting that there are a number of official resellers that are charities reselling our products on these sites. To be an official reseller you would have been issued with a certification badge, so please keep an eye out for these as they are legitimately doing so.
“Amazon have today assured us that they are going to be removing all the listings currently on their site.
“We continue to work with both Amazon and eBay to resolve the situation.”
Blimey, that was a long one.
Long story short, if you’re not disabled and you’re abusing these schemes for your own agenda, you’re actually causing harm to the community of people who rely on them the most. You’re also… a massive dick.
Hopefully my next post is something a bit more positive and exciting, eh?