Sunflower to help: a new program to support passengers with disabilities

Sunflower to help: a new program to support passengers with disabilities



A bright and sunny sunflower has become a symbol of the new program to support people with disabilities in Ireland.  How are yellow flower and disability related?

It all started in 2016 at Gatwick Airport in London with two simple questions: does every deaf or hard of hearing person wear a hearing aid? Does every blind or visually impaired person wear black glasses and a white cane?

Which led to a few other issues. For example, how could airport staff recognize that one of the passengers may have a non-obvious disability? How to be ready to help at the same time and not to offend with obsession? And how to help a passenger tell about his special needs, at the same time, without drawing too much attention? 

The answer was to create a lanyard with a simple sunflower design on a green background. Upon arrival at the airport, a passenger with a disability can take this badge or lanyard and wear it on clothes or around his neck, thereby signaling to the staff that he may need some help, time or assistance. This scheme is called Hidden Disabilities Sunflower.


According to the authors of the scheme, every fifth resident of the UK has a disability. In 80% of cases, these are hidden disabilities. One out of 30 people has  impairment, one in six has hearing problems. 52% have a disability associated with restriction of movement. Only 7% use a wheelchair.

The idea was widespread in the UK and has already been adopted by all the largest airports in the country, by rail, in museums and supermarkets. And the other day, Irish Ferries - an Irish ferry company that transports passengers on routes between the Ireland, the UK and continental Europe, became the first travel company in Ireland to introduce this system.

“With hidden disabilities, travelling can be a very stressful experience. These can arise from conditions which may not be immediately obvious to others (such as autism, chronic pain, dementia or anxiety, and can include learning difficulties, mental health problems as well as speech, visual or hearing impairments). Irish Ferries staff have been specially trained to recognize the lanyard and provide additional support to those passengers” - the company says in a statement. 


“We’re extremely proud of the efforts made by our staff members who have undergone special training to recognize, understand, respect, and react to the needs of those wearing the discreet lanyard and hope that the introduction of this initiative gives our customers a sense of independence and the confidence to travel freely on the sea with us.” - Irish Ferries Customer Services Manager, Nicola Hammond said.

Customers with hidden disabilities, their family members, or carers who will be traveling with them on Irish Ferries and wish to avail of the scheme should do so by contacting For more information please visit