Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is a global symbol for non-visible disabilities that you might have seen on a lanyard. A lot of people are familiar with it, but how did it get started?

The idea was born in 2016 at Gatwick Airport in England.

The Airport Passenger Advisory Group, the Gatwick Team, including Ruth Rabet who is now our Business Development Director in the UK, worked with local and national charities to assess whether using a lanyard would benefit people living with hidden disabilities. They engaged in discussions with Tim Wilkins from the Alzheimer’s Society, Daniel Williams from Visualise, Daniel Cadey, formerly from the National Autistic Society, as well as with Maria Cook from Autism Support Crawley, whose son Ryan is autistic.

Alzheimer's logo
National Autistic Society logo
Visualise Training & Consultancy logo

Following this evaluation, the group chose a lanyard with sunflowers on a green background to reflect the idea of confidence, growth and strength, as well as introducing happiness and positivity.

Since then, thousands of businesses around the world in every sector have joined the global network. 

A timeline

Navigate through our history below by scrolling from left-to right and for an accessible version, scroll down to the end page or click here for a list of events that have taken place since 2016.

Click on the years to explore the Sunflower history:

2016 | 2016-2018 | 20192020 | 2021

May 2016

The Sunflower Lanyard Scheme® launches at London Gatwick Airport
The lanyard is designed to identify passengers with a hidden disability who may need additional help while travelling


The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard rolls out across all major UK airports


UK rail providers become members of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Scheme®.

The Co-operative Channel Islands is the first UK supermarket chain to pilot the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard

Major UK supermarkets trials take place

NHS trusts and independent GP surgeries trial and launch the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Scheme®

Work with international airports including sharing training materials and advising on best practices


Tabbers Limited trademarks the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard Scheme®

Cinemas and visitor attractions launch the scheme throughout the UK


M&S is the first UK supermarket to roll out the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard in all their UK stores; Sainsbury's and Argos launch throughout their UK stores; and Tesco launch in all of their stores in the UK and Ireland

Banks, hospitals, insurance companies, shopping centres, sports venues, and arenas join across the UK

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower online store opens up to the general public.

Facebook Page 25,000 likes within a few days - individuals and businesses from all over the world become aware and request the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Lanyard.

Global airports launch the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower: 

Sydney and Brisbane in Australia

Seattle and San Jose in the US

Copenhagen, Trieste and Amsterdam in Europe

Istanbul in Eurasia and Dubai in the Middle-East

Over 2 million lanyards distributed globally


The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower training videos are released for businesses and organisations to train their staff

Nationwide trials the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower becoming the first financial institution to join the scheme

Chelsea Football Club launch

National lockdown starts in the UK - new Sunflower cards released to raise awareness and support people with hidden disabilities during the pandemic

National Express becomes the 1st national road transport business to recognise the Sunflower

Sunflower Stories launched - a series of interviews to find out more about Sunflower wearers' experience of living with a hidden disability

Face coverings mandatory on all UK public transport - Hidden Disabilities Sunflower collaborates with the national rail network to find a way to support those people whose hidden disability means they are unable to wear a face covering. The result is a Sunflower face covering exempt card to indicate that the person wearing it has a hidden disability and that hidden disability makes them exempt according to the UK Government guidelines.

Hidden in Heritage 2020 - Hidden Disabilities Sunflower creates and launches an online festival to shine a light on hidden disabilities in heritage

Australia and New Zealand launch - partnering with Bayley House

North American launch - partnering with The Sourcing Group

Pearson Airport becomes the first airport in Canada to recognise the Sunflower

Students return to university -  Hidden Disabilities Sunflower launches its Back to Campus campaign to support students living with a hidden disability

International Day of Persons with Disabilities -Hidden Disabilities Sunflower releases its 'Hidden Disabilities and me' poetry book, an anthology of poems written by Sunflower wearers and supporters


Borderforce UK launch the Sunflower to ensure everyone travelling into the UK wearing a Sunflower will be provisioned for by Borderforce staff

UK vaccine roll-out - HIdden Disabilities Sunflower launch 'Our Sunflower, Your NHS' campaign to provide free Sunflower products and training to every Covid vaccination centre in the UK, to ensure that wearers of the Sunflower will be supported whilst receiving their vaccination