The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower officially launches in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at AccessAbilities Expo 2022. We speak to Topland - People of Determination, our partner in the Middle East, about: the Sunflower, Topland, People of Determination and the cultural shift that is currently taking place in the UAE.

Who are Topland?

A group of Emiratis on a beach watching Andy from Topland demonstrate a floating wheelchair

Topland participate in many projects both within the UAE and internationally to help businesses and organisations from every sector and industry improve accessibility for people of determination. From working alongside exhibitors at World Expo 2020 to, more recently, assisting clients in the banking and retail sector install hearing assistance technology, Topland provide products and services that help organisations make their products and services, as well as work environment, more accessible.

In addition to providing products and services, Topland is also at the forefront of raising awareness for people of determination in the UAE. A partnership exists between Topland and organisations such as World Disability Union (WDU), ImInclusive, Sanad and together they seek to educate and inform people about accessibility requirements at numerous events across the region.

Topland recently won the Best Implementation of Technology to enhance Customer Happiness at the Customer Happiness Awards 2022.

World Expo 2020

Steven Misfud and her Excellency at World Expo 2020

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is not a completely new concept in the UAE. Earlier this year, the Sunflower successfully supported people with invisible disabilities who attended World Expo 2020 in Dubai. World Expo ran from October 2021 – March 2022 and welcomed 24 million visitors from around the world. Of these visitors, statistically speaking, 1 in 7 would have a disability and 80% of these would be hidden.

“Sometimes, when people think of disability, they often think of a person that uses a wheelchair. They don't quite have the knowledge of hidden disabilities - people with hearing impairments, people with learning disabilities, autistic people. So we needed a way for anyone with an invisible disability to communicate to the staff that they may require additional assistance. And the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard was an incredible tool to help us achieve that. The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower ensured that visitors that wore the lanyard were supported from the outset of their experience – going through security, visiting the attractions, managing the queues and crowded places.” - Director of Accessibility at Expo 2020

It was at World Expo 2020 that Topland really recognised the value of the Sunflower lanyard. While the team had heard of the programme, World Expo 2020 was the first opportunity for Topland to visualise the impact that the programme can have on the everyday lives of People of Determination.

“World Expo 2020 highlighted to us the importance of the Sunflower and the impact it was having . . .this is where we first saw it being used to assist people. As an organisation that supplies products and services to assist people of determination, we see the Sunflower as a natural fit into our portfolio as it really helps people of determination.”- Andy, Topland

Changing mindsets

“Previously people in the UAE thought of disabilities as physical disabilities. So if they could see a person in a wheelchair, they'd recognise them as a person of determination, but there was very little knowledge of invisible disabilities. For instance, there have been a lot of articles circulating about autistic children finding it hard to incorporate into society because of acceptance. Many people didn't understand about autism or other neurological conditions due to the assumption that if you can't see a disability, then there isn't one. So when that child or person acts in a different way, the general perception would be that the child is spoilt or not-well behaved. We want to help change this mindset and this is exactly what the Sunflower seeks to do.” - Tanya, Topland

Over the last 6 months there has been a noticeable change taking place in the United Arab Emirates. Accessibility and inclusion for people of determination is now at the forefront of many organisations considerations as they build physical spaces, organise events, adapt their online offerings and implement diversity and inclusion policies.

"Over the last couple of years we have seen a big increase in individuals and businesses understanding the requirements of people of determination and wanting to ensure everywhere is accessible and inclusive. There has been a huge change in mindsets and we see the Sunflower as keeping this progression going.”- Andy Topland.

A person in a wheelchair on a beach on a ramp heading to the sea

AccessAbilities Expo 2022 - The UAE Sunflower launch event

AccessAbilities Expo 2022, a three-day event for people of determination (people living with disabilities), will see 20,000 people from across the Middle East attend to experience the latest products and services that are available to assist people of determination, it is the perfect place to launch the Sunflower.

AccessAbilities Expo brings the latest technologies, services and ideas from around the world that the UAE's public and private sectors can adopt to enhance the lives of people of determination and create a common platform to meet, learn and collaborate with global peers.

Topland and the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower has a large exhibition stand with the Sunflower on display at AccessAbilities and will meet with some large organisations from the aviation industry such as Emirates Airlines and Dubai International Airport during the event. Schools, special educational needs service providers and professionals are also expected to visit the stand in order to gain a deeper understanding of the Sunflower.

Topland's first priority upon launching the programme, is to ensure that the meaning of the Sunflower is properly understood by organisations that seek to recognise and support the initiative.

Before any business can launch the Sunflower programme, and during their Sunflower Membership, we ask that they commit to training all of their colleagues to identify the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower, gain an understanding of what a non-visible disability is, and become confident to approach and support people who are wearing a Sunflower.

Once businesses have completed their Sunflower training and their employees are confident in supporting people of determination, they will be able to start distributing Sunflower products to anyone with an invisible disability that feels they would benefit from wearing the Sunflower.

Topland expects to see the Sunflower first bloom in both the retail and banking sectors. But of Topland's 1,000 existing customers, who will be first past the post?

How to join the Sunflower UAE

If your business is based in the Middle East and would like to support the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower there are three membership levels available: standard, professional and corporate. More detail as to what's included in the different membership packages can be found here. For more information on how to join, please visit: https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/uae/sunflower-memberships

If you are a person of determination based in the UAE and would like to purchase a Sunflower product please visit: hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/uae