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Hidden Disabilities/Sunflower Scheme.


Many people will have seen an increase in others wearing "Sunflower Lanyards" and may wonder what they are. In our view they started out as a nice business venture and were helpful to those needing extra help. Then came Covid-19 and the lanyards with exemption cards, turned from a delightful sunflower, to something of the sinister.

Here is more information.

From their website


How did it all start?

In 2016, the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower was designed and launched when London Gatwick Airport asked "How can we identify that one of our passengers may have a non-obvious disability?". We created a simple sunflower design on a green background for a lanyard - a subtle but visible sign to enable airport staff to identify that the wearer (or someone with them) may require some extra help, time, or assistance when moving through the airport.

The success of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower and the positive response it has received has increased awareness of the challenges adults and children with hidden disabilities can face. Hidden Disabilities Sunflower wearers now benefit more widely from help being offered to make their daily living a little easier.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower is part of Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme Limited, a private company based in the UK.

Many think that "Hidden Disabilities" is a charity. They are not a charity; they are a business – a limited company. Hidden Disabilities do not give out free lanyards from what we have seen. They sell them to supermarkets, shops, shopping centres (who buy them on behalf of tenants) and such places, who in turn give them out for free to people who ask for them. You may see a stand as you enter Eastgate Shopping Centre in Gloucester together with a poster telling people that "Not all disabilities look like this" and a few leaflets which advertises the hidden disabilities scheme. Ultimately, it is the businesses that give them away, who are doing the charitable thing as it is, they who pay.

From their Website -


How do you join?


To join the scheme, you would need to register as a business or a charity on our website. At this stage, you can indicate whether you would like to be added to the online location map (please be sure to add your address in your account so we can do this).

Train your staff:

To become a member of Hidden Disabilities Sunflower, we ask that you commit to training your staff to identify the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower, gain a deeper understanding of hidden disabilities and learn how to approach and support customers with a hidden disability.

Wearing the Sunflower Lanyard indicates to people that help may be required, and that help may be different for each person - it may be as simple as providing a little more time. To support you, we have produced three training videos that can be accessed when you purchase a starter pack or have spent more than £500 on Hidden Disabilities Sunflower items.

Provide Hidden Disability Sunflower Products to your customers:

You can choose to provide your customers with Hidden Disabilities Sunflower products but we ask that you make them available free of charge.

Anyone giving out the lanyards cannot recoup their costs or make a profit from them. Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme Limited also have trademarked their sunflower lanyard and the sale of lanyards is strictly prohibited, inclusive of E-bay etc. Although some are on such websites.

The meaning of the lanyards will still mean what they were originally intended for (extra help for vulnerable people) and which we do not have any problem with.

Now, we come to the face mask issue, which we absolutely DO have a problem with.

Hidden Disabilities added a new string to their bow which is the exemption cards that can be affixed to the lanyards. This new string is the exemption cards that say the card carrier is exempt from wearing a face mask during a pandemic where facemasks are believed strongly to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. These can be purchased directly from Hidden Disabilities. https://hiddendisabilitiesstore.com/hidden-disabilities-face-covering.html

They can also be obtained free from participating members who have joined the hidden disabilities scheme such as supermarkets. There are no criteria to obtain one as anyone can have or claim to have a hidden disability so no questions will be asked. 

When we at 14 Gifts knew about the exemption scheme in addition to the Sunflower scheme, we purchased one to see how easy it was to get one. It arrived with our payment receipt. So now, we can wear one, if we simply do not want to wear a mask and wander unchallenged in the main spreading Covid-19 should we have it. We could be out mingling with the public, serving in our shop, chatting with customers on the shop floor spreading our virus if we have it because now, we are exempt and can “prove it”. Yet we are not exempt and nor should we be exempt. We wear our masks for 9 hours each day we work and any time we leave the house.

The lanyard on its own does not always mean the wearer is exempt, they can still mean that someone needs extra support, which is why we will see someone sometimes with a lanyard and a facemask. A sad side effect of this, is the original purpose is now greatly undermined. A sunflower lanyard is now seen as mask exemption and some that want to use the lanyard to try to get extra help are finding that the help is no longer there as it is now seen as mask exemption.

No evidence of exemption is required. The word "Exempt" suffices. Further, it is illegal to challenge this word. So, someone could be a well-known marathon runner, who is known to be fit and well, and could still say "Exempt". Any comment at all, or sign of disbelief, regardless of being a business owner and having vulnerable people nearby, is making a judgement on whether someone has a hidden disability or not. 

To us, it is insanity. We are in a pandemic, and some people say, masks do not work. Masks do work, but fail for three reasons –

1. There are so many who are self-certified exempt and therefore do not wear them.

2. Those that do wear them, do not wear them properly – i.e.: not covering the nose and mouth.

3. There are many who do not want to wear them so simply do not. These people too, in the main are unchallenged as they “may” have a hidden disability.

4. Instead of enforcement, we have in the main Engagement, Encouragement and Explanation. The soft and gently approach may be nice, but this niceness has in our opinion cost more lives.

So back on to this company, Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme Limited. They have zero "customer services". They really are in our view having their cake and eating it. There is no telephone number to speak to them. There is no e-mail to e-mail them. There is no address to write to them. None that we can find anyway, so how can someone with the very difficulties they claim to support ever contact them? Some may not have access to or be able to use a computer. 

They have some F.A.Q.’s. (Frequently asked questions).

Well, they do have a "contact form". When using this, there is a drop-down menu. We contacted them and received only an automated reply. We have posted both on our Keep Britain Safe Facebook Group. We have copied this e-mail below. This e-mail was never responded to, aside from a standard automated response. There is no other clear point to contact them.

This is from their website


Solution home General FAQ

How to contact us? Print

Modified on: Mon, 10 Aug, 2020 at 6:32 PM


We understand that you may wish to contact us by e-mail but there is a much better way for us to help you more quickly and efficiently. Simply click here and complete the form. This then raises what is called a 'Support Ticket' with us. It's a bit like an e-mail but it asks you certain questions that gives us all the information we need to help you get your query resolved for you. If you send us an e-mail we will need to ask these questions and there is a bit of back and forth required before we can help you properly. So this really is the best way to get in touch with us.

We do understand that some people prefer to phone up but we are a small team who could not handle the amount of calls we would get. We are expanding and will add contact by phone in the near future. So, for now, please try to avoid finding phone numbers for us as the people you get through to will not be able to help you like we can here.

A grave concern we have is that they appear to be taking in the cash from businesses and individuals but are totally unanswerable to any concerns. There is no duty of care to their own customers let alone anyone else.

One of our main reasons we wanted to contact them was to ask them to make it very clear and without ambiguity that their sunflower lanyards are not a guarantee of acceptance to enter a retailer’s premises without wearing a face mask . Wearers of the lanyard do not have an automatic right of entry. We have seen many wearing sunflower lanyards with their exemption cards assuming entry. When we have refused some have been outraged, some have been confused and sad. Some have tried to ruin our business by leaving negative reviews for example on Google and social media.

This is unfair on some of the genuine ones. At no time has the government or the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme Limited ever preached from what we have seen “Before entering a facility (shop, museum, bingo hall etc) during Covid-19, please check for signage and instore policies, follow their systems in place and if needing extra services check first that the place you are visiting will cater for you". This would save so much embarrassment and sadness as well as anger.

A further confusion occurs for some who obtain their free lanyard and exemption card from a shopping centre and then is refused entry for wearing no mask to one of the shops within that same shopping centre. This has happened to companies such as Apple. This is also unfair on the staff at Apple who have an irate person attempting to gain entry.

This Sunflower business has enjoyed heavy free promotion by other businesses, in shopping centres, on TV, in the press and so on. It is “acceptable” to suggest that Amazon have done well in this pandemic, but somehow “rude” to suggest a company like this has done not so bad.

In our view this company has done a great disservice to the victims of this pandemic.

1. To businesses such as ours - we are quite bombarded by Sunflower Lanyard and exemption card wearers who quite often rudely say "Exempt" while lifting their card from their necks and then expect us to spend time explaining refusal of entry like they are a priority regardless of if we are serving a customer already. There is clear signage saying no exemptions, but this is very often not read or thought of by many as not applicable to them as they are “exempt”.

2. To businesses buying into the scheme, they are trying to do a nice thing and help people but as they cannot question why someone should have an exemption, they are paying to give exemption cards to people who should not have one. They are not allowed to have any discretion, even though they are paying for them.

3. To some individuals who obtain these - sometimes free, sometimes by purchase directly. The genuine who believe they cannot wear a mask also believe that their exemption card is accepted everywhere. It is not clear that they are not. Not making this clear, does help them sell more lanyards and cards. We have seen people genuinely hurt that we as a shop are not allowing entry. We know everyone is an individual, and they are treated as such, but we do not have the time to have a discussion, console, to give out documents to so many people. Nor do we wish to break social distancing when someone is unmasked and could potentially pass the virus on to us.

4. To the public - there is the belief that an exemption card is law and while they may be reasonably happy to say to someone who is coughing "why haven't you got a mask". If someone has a card on show, that person may not say anything and simply be coughed on without complaining so as to be “understanding”. The impact of this can be incredibly traumatic.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme Limited do have a grievance. They are very annoyed that some people are obtaining the lanyards for free and selling them on E-bay for £15 each in some cases. Demand has been high for the lanyards and cards. Hidden Disabilities online shop has sold out several times.

How unjust is this that those with Hidden Disabilities are being taken advantage of by e-bay sellers? While we do not defend E-bay sellers, just who is really taking advantage of the situation?

How safe would our roads be if traffic laws applied to everyone apart from those who were “exempt” and the exemption was for anyone who feels that driving or parking rules were too restrictive, brought about anxiety etc.

This is not an outright attack on this company. It is more “exposing” in our opinion what many do not realise. There have been many opportunists in this crisis. They may even have some good intention. The government have allowed this to happen and rather than empower people to wear a mask and fight this virus together, they have empowered the word cannot.

We know several who could not wear a face mask at one time, but now, they can. On the other hand, we know many who used to wear a face mask, but now wear the sunflower lanyard and exemption card. Some believe that a Sunflower lanyard is “proof” of exemption. Do not be misled.

Below is the e-mail as aforementioned which we send to Hidden Disabilities on 9th September 2020. To this date we have only received an automated reply.

Dear Hidden Disabilities.

We are a shop that operates a "no face mask/covering, no entry" policy.

We are writing to ask if you will consider making it clear to your customers that your lanyards or exemption cards do not guarantee them exemption everywhere.

Refusal of entry to those who are exempt often causes offence. This is unpleasant for ourselves as well as those who are exempt.

Our refusal is NOT based on any discrimination as we treat everyone the same. It is based on the health and safety of ourselves and our customers, some who may be very adversely affected should they contract Covid-19. Carrying an exempt card does not exempt them from carrying Covid-19.

As a small gift shop, operating in a shopping mall, we have the right to refuse entry to anyone who we deem may be a threat to our safe environment and/or that of our customers. Our customers have the right to be safe as well as our rights as staff to be safe in our workplace.

Some of your customers wrongly hold the belief that we are discriminating against them. While there are many calls for shops like us to understand them and their disabilities, where is the call for the understanding of us?

We have found some of your customers to be incredibly selfish. We have explained with courtesy "Being exempt does not exempt you from carrying a virus" and the reply has been many times "I know, but I can't wear a mask". This means, they know they can spread the virus, but believe that we MUST take that risk as part of their rights of exemption. Those that say this, are fully aware that they could spread the virus and are prepared to put others at risk.

Their reasoning for not being able to, or whether they are refusing to wear one, is totally irrelevant to us, we do not question anyone's disability, (it is not our place to do so), the result is still the same.

We fully understand disability discrimination and we have no reason to discriminate. We have many disabled customers who enjoy our shop and they say that they feel safe here. Our shop is very disabled friendly. We understand about reasonable adjustments. When we are expected potentially to put our own lives at risk and the lives of our customers at risk, this is anything but a reasonable adjustment. It is most unreasonable.

We are doing our best to protect people from this virus and are being harassed as a small business by some "exempt people" who believe their perceived rights, override the rights of others to be safe from a potentially lethal virus.

It is within your gift to save embarrassment to your customers, as well as save us and other business owners from more grief than we should have to tolerate.

We urge you to make it clearer to your customers that exemptions are not a guarantee of entry into a shop and perhaps encourage them to check for individual policies prior to visiting. This would help everyone.

We know you state on your website "Shop owners and staff themselves can call the police to enforce the rule or refuse the person entry". This does not in our view make clear that this applies to someone who is exempt. It is far too ambiguous for some people who believe their exemption overrides this statement and they believe that with their exemption it is illegal for shop owners such as ourselves to refuse entry.

We stress we are a business whose very existence, like most businesses, relies on customers. Why as business owners would we have any interest in turning customers away? We do so, if they pose a threat. Some disabled people who we are refusing entry, have enjoyed our shop before. If we were discriminating against them now, we would have discriminated against them then. We have a very clear policy that is displayed including that we do not accept exemptions. We can serve people at the door if someone knows what they would like, we are online also. We have previously offered appointments, where people without masks can come outside of trading hours (early morning or evening), however due to harassment, we have since withdrawn the appointments for those with no mask.

We have various other policies in our shop and these too are to maintain a clean and safe shop. The other policies we have pre-date the Pandemic, and they too are not discriminatory. They are for the benefit of all, including your customers.

We were meant to be all in this together. Out of respect for you as a fellow business, we are informing you that this is an open letter, that can be read by others.

We look forward to hearing from you,

George and Elizabeth Placidly-Cox (Owners of 14 Gifts - Gloucester)


22nd September 2020

Boris Johnson today announced Retail Staff  must wear a face mask from Monday. We (KEEP BRITAIN SAFE) called for this to be implemented with Richard Graham (MP for Gloucester) when we recently wrote to him and hopefully many others called for this too.

We also expressed this when we were interviewed by Gloucestershire Live some time ago, as well as on our other radio interviews. It was an absolute absurdity that a retail customer must wear a face mask, but a retailer who has encountered many people in the day did not have to.

We have worn ours since 15th June, not because it was law, but because it is the RIGHT thing to do. We all have choices to do the RIGHT thing, especially where the law is slow to catch up as it was in this case!

Now, most will know how we feel about face mask exemptions. They are senseless in terms of this virus. We are at war with a killer (Covid-19). We are not scientists, nor do we pretend to be, but we are business owners who give a damn about us, about our shop and about YOU, our customers.

So taking that we are "at war", when this country was in "The War", it was an offence at certain times to leave a light on as that caused death as the enemy could easily see you and it put at severe risk the lives of not only yourself, but everyone else around you as they could get bombed. The result was still the same. If someone needed their light on because they might need a drink in the middle of the night and was ill, or whether someone just preferred the light on because it was their right to choose a light. It meant that people could die as a result of a bombing attack.

Here is no different. Someone without a mask, is a room with a light on......We are at war and we will not win while we refuse to turn the lights off. No, we do not mean exempt people should die, before people jump on that one, we mean that people should try much harder to wear a mask and if necessary limit the amount of times they go out even. Someone without a mask could spread a virus if they have it, regardless of the reason. 

The most selfish thing we have heard this year is when we said to some face mask exempt people about wearing a mask that they could still pass on a virus if you have it, they replied "I know, but I can't wear a mask". These people were prepared to spread the virus so long as they do not have to be inconvenienced or uncomfortable by wearing a mask. This is STILL NOT being addressed. There will still be many retail staff who are "Exempt". And so it will carry on....It will help, along with the other measures, but will it help enough. A real stance needs to be taken. Talk is tough, but actions speak louder. It is within us all to decide how we act.


15th September 2020

We are sat here in our retail shop looking out the door (we are in a shopping mall), and the amount of people we see walking past not wearing a face mask is totally ridiculous! - WHY? - Why are you not wearing a mask? - What is the matter with you? - We are now facing additional restrictions (ie: the rule of 6 that the Government has just introduced), due to the fact that the infection rate would appear to be on the increase! - So get with the programme and start to do your bit - we are all meant to be in this together, so remember this, - we wear our mask for you - why don't you wear your mask for us?


01st September 2020

We attach this link below that we think is quite a good guide to show to both your staff and also as a guide for us all. If you are a retailer you could even show this to anyone that comes in your shop.

Wearing a face mask is an absolute must! - But this is no good unless the mask is worn correctly!!

If you are a retailer don't be afraid to confront people coming into your shop if they are not wearing their mask/covering correctly in order to inform them of the correct way to wear it. In our retail shop we do this all the time and in the main most people get the fact that you are doing what needs to be done. Remember, making excuses not to do the right thing is only making an excuse for Covid-19 to take hold once again - do you really want that on your conscience! - As a retailer it is within your gift to do something about it - SO DO IT!

We often hear how retailers put customers at the heart of their business. Now is the time to prove it! - PROTECT THE CUSTOMERS WHO COME FOR SHOPPING OR SERVICES FROM TAKING AWAY MORE THAN THEY DESERVE!

How to wear a face mask. Click HERE for video


19th July 2020

This issue is indeed a very emotive issue!

Many people do indeed have very strong views on this subject.

There has been many debates in relation to the effectiveness of wearing face masks that are deemed non Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ie: non medical grade ones, called face coverings by the government.

However the current general consensus of opinion which is supported by many medical professionals including the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that the universal wearing of face coverings amongst the general population does indeed limit the potential spread of Covid-19.

As of 24th July 2020 the government has said that wearing a face covering in shops will become mandatory, with some exceptions due to actual or perceived disabilities. 

As business owners and Directors ourselves we have adopted a blanket policy in our retail store. A blanket policy of no mask, no entry. This is truly in our belief the only safe policy to adopt, not only from our customers point of view but also from a staff perspective.

We have talked to many of our customers who frequent public transport and they have said that they are appalled at the fact that the bus drivers they have encountered have not enforced the mandatory face covering rule on their buses. We have also heard from other customers who frequent the train that again lack of enforcement to the face mask rule is also the case! One person we spoke to said that he was the only one wearing a face mask in a carriage of around 15 other people. 

This lack of consistency to what people perceive as the rules only breeds resentment as well as fear amongst people. 

We as as a retailer ourselves do not want to be talked about in a negative way like the above mentioned bus drivers and train companies are! We also do not want to feel that we as a company have let the public and our customers down by not enforcing something that is deemed as mandatory.

All businesses are afraid to lose customers but to what extent are we willing to sell our soul for the sake of a sale? - It takes courage, but we have found that if you stick to your guns, in the long run you earn respect by not bowing down to minority public opinion and not enforcing an issue that is in fact law!

So our view is this: Mandatory hand sanitiser and mandatory face masks/coverings upon entry to our store! - Protect your customers and protect your staff and have the courage of your convictions and be proud of the fact that you are!

In other words, KEEP BRITAIN SAFE - For all of us!