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University adopts Sunflower scheme for highlighting invisible disabilities

Supporting the Sunflower scheme

We are delighted to announce that the University of Reading is joining a growing number of organisations in adopting the Sunflower scheme, which helps raise awareness of hidden or invisible disabilities.

An invisible disability is a disability that may not be immediately visible by looking at or talking to someone. It can include, for example, neurodiversity, a mental health condition as well as mobility, sensory loss or a physical disability that causes pain, fatigue or impacts on movement.

Anyone wishing to indicate that they have an invisible disability can wear a Sunflower lanyard or badge as a way of signalling to others that they may require additional assistance or considerations, such as extra time or adjustments to work or study environments. A wallet-sized card is also available.

The scheme also helps indicate that a wearer may welcome being approached about whether they require additional assistance. If the situation is appropriate, you may sensitively ask if there is anything that you can do to support the wearer. Not everybody who has an invisible disability requires additional support and not everybody who requires additional support will wear a Sunflower lanyard or badge, so it is important to be sensitive and not make assumptions.

The Sunflower scheme was created by charity Hidden Disabilities in 2016, where it was initially introduced in Gatwick Airport to support passengers with disabilities that were not visible. The scheme has grown in popularity and has been introduced more widely in public transport, leisure facilities, retail and a growing number of higher education institutions. The initiative is also supported by leading UK charities including the Alzheimer's Society, the National Autistic Society and Action on Hearing Loss.

The University of Reading is signing up to the scheme as part of our ongoing commitment to supporting disabled students and colleagues. Other ongoing work includes adapting the Tailored Adjustments Passport for University staff and work towards gaining Disability Confident Employer status. We are adopting the term of ‘invisible disabilities' rather than ‘hidden disabilities' to reinforce that disability is not something we should be hiding and encourage further discussions around disability awareness and disclosure. Several institutions are also taking this approach, including University College London.  

Dr Allán Laville, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion commented:

"The Sunflower lanyard scheme aims to raise awareness of invisible disabilities and is central to our ongoing work on improving disability awareness on campus. As someone who is neurodiverse, I'm thankful for the support of colleagues in furthering our journey in this important area, which will support future work in neurodiversity awareness. It is clear to me that we need to focus on the excellent skills that neurodiverse individuals bring to an organisation and the different innovative ways of working".

Dr Yota Dimitriadi, co-chair of the Staff Disability Network commented:

"The Network welcomes the adoption of the Sunflower Scheme that comes as a result of collective discussions with staff and students. We are extremely proud of this collaboration with our student body and grateful to colleagues for input and feedback. The Sunflower scheme is one of the examples of work that we, as university community, are putting together to support further disability awareness and inclusive work and study practices".

 Dr Ranjita Dhital Co-chair of the Staff Disability Network also commented: 

"Many people with invisible disabilities never get to experience their full potential. We hope the Sunflower project will highlight that some of us with invisible disabilities need to work in specific ways that allow us to flourish. During this COVID-19 pandemic it's more important than ever that we learn to empathise and understand the needs of those with invisible disabilities, especially if we want to create a working culture where we can all thrive rather than just survive." 

Rachel Wates, RUSU Diversity Officer added:

"I am so happy that the Sunflower Scheme has been implemented on our campus. Considering there are over 10 million people in the UK who have an invisible disability, we are now offering a discrete way for those who wish to disclose it. I am especially happy with the assortment of products we have on offer - such as ID Cards, the lanyards and even small pin badges. I hope this will make a difference to those with hidden disabilities and this is 100% a step in the right direction. I hope more and more UK universities implement this scheme".

Konstantina Nouka (Disabled Students' Officer 2020-2021):

"Being part of the team that has ensured that the Sunflower Scheme will be implemented in our University, has been a great honour! As a student with a disability myself, I know that sometimes it is very frustrating to constantly been asked to explain that you have a disability and what your disability is. This scheme, enables me, and many more other students, to feel more comfortable in our day to day life, without having to constantly justify why we might need a bit of extra support while we are on campus trying to do things on our own!"

The scheme is open to all disabled students and colleagues and does not influence other disability support that is currently available. Participating in the scheme is optional - wearing the lanyard or the badge is a personal choice and there is no requirement to provide evidence in order to access the scheme.

The Sunflower lanyards, cards and badges are available from the Support Centres, Disability Advisory Service, Reading University Students' Union (RUSU) and the HR reception in Whiteknights House. Colleagues and students wishing to obtain one can visit the Support Centres during opening hoursbut if you are unable to visit the campus to collect one, please email

The Sunflower project is a collaboration between Student Services, the Staff Disability Network, the University's Diversity and Inclusion team and RUSU. 

You can find out more about the Sunflower scheme at

About the Staff Disability Network

The Staff Disability Network is an inclusive support network for all staff with a range of disabilities, impairments and/or health conditions, as well as non-disabled staff with an interest in disability.

New members are always welcome - to join or to find out more, please email or join the Network on Microsoft Teams

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