Catherine Trezona recalls the day it was emphasised to her the importance of a discreet and respectful way to signal hidden disabilities.

The Altogether Autism national manager was at Wellington Airport in New Zealand with two autistic advocates who told her how anxious they got when they were travelling.

“They told me how a sunflower lanyard would reduce that anxiety,” she said.

Altogether Autism provides free, nationwide autism information and advice funded by the Ministry of Health. It regularly publishes a journal which is distributed widely within the autistic and autism communities.

The service is provided in partnership between Life Unlimited Charitable Trust and Parent to Parent NZ.

“Of course, the Sunflower products are only effective if staff understand what the lanyards mean and how to respond to anyone wearing these.”

Catherine realised that she had the ability to help because Altogether Autism was part of a trust dedicated to ensuring disabled and autistic people live independent lives and which also operates Mobility Centre, a mobility equipment store.

She contacted the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme in Australia for further information and to ask how Life Unlimited might become part of the scheme.

“We had the perfect network here in New Zealand to make the products easy to buy, advocate for and champion,” said Catherine.

“Hidden Disabilities agreed and in July, Life Unlimited became the authorised New Zealand distributor.”

The Sunflower exists to help those with disabilities, that are not immediately obvious, such as autism, chronic pain, dementia, anxiety, visual impairment or being hard of hearing.

The lanyard allows wearers to make their invisible support needs visible by discreetly indicating to others, including staff, colleagues, and health professionals, that they may need extra support, care, and time.

Life Unlimited chief executive Megan Thomas said Life Unlimited was delighted to be involved in the Hidden Disabilities programme.

“The Sunflower Lanyard is all about giving people an option to be confident in navigating their way around the community.

“We celebrate businesses who support the Sunflower Lanyard as a way of building greater disability awareness amongst their staff and help make our community more accessible.”

Life Unlimited has the right to sell the Sunflower products in New Zealand through Mobility Centre, its equipment provider, which has an online store and stores in Hamilton, Tauranga, Hastings and Lower Hutt.

Altogether Autism offers support to businesses wanting to access the free training so their staff are confident in welcoming wearers of the Sunflower lanyards.

“We promoted the scheme in our recent edition of the Altogether Autism Journal which goes out to more than 6000 people by post and another 8000 people online,” said Catherine.

“I’m also very pleased to have support from my Life Unlimited colleagues. Our hearing service manager David Darling immediately saw the advantages of the Sunflower for those who are hard of hearing and has become a champion too.”

Selwyn Cook, who is an independent facilitator for disability employment, has become an excellent ambassador by getting the word out to employers.

“The addition of the supporter Sunflower products on a white background is an excellent addition to the range, for those who wish to show an understanding of hidden disabilities,” said Catherine.


Caption: l-r Sunflower lanyards: l-r Catherine Trezona, Amanda Phillips with her dog Beau and Hearing Therapy service manager David Darling.