5 years ago Im sure the general population probably had no idea what the sunflower lanyard was and what the sunflower symbol stood for. You probably never saw anyone wearing a sunflower.
Now it appears everyone has one. If you go to the super market you will see people wandering around with one and they will not be wearing a mask (not everyone but a lot). The sunflower lanyard it seems now is a sign that you are mask exempt. Some people will be but because the lanyard is so readily available I am skeptical as to whether everyone is really mask exempt or not. I very rarely see anyone with the face mask exempt card issued by in my case the Scottish Government.
Lets rewind a few years to pre covid times. I never knew anything about the sunflower lanyard, what it meant, how to get one and who could get one. It was just not something that had ever crossed my path.
I first found out about them when I was travelling abroad and was concerned about the airport, walking the distance, having to go through duty free and the perfume station so I had called the airport to see about assistance and this was when I found about the sunflower lanyard and the sunflower scheme.
The sunflower scheme which started off with the lanyard is a symbol for a hidden disability and that you may require extra help. Typically it started in airports. I think Gatwick in London was the first as they wanted to find something that could be used so that their staff would be able to identify someone who may need some extra help or support. The strap line so to speak is that ‘it is a discreet way to choose to make the invisible visible’.
That first time using the sunflower scheme I found my travel so much less stressful than it could have been. In the airport (Edinburgh) one of the first big hurdles I would always have was waiting in the hot stuffy queue to go through security- no matter what time you arrive at the airport you will always have a queue there. But with the lanyard on I was asked if I wanted to go through the other gate where families with small children and disabled go which I accepted. Hurdle one passed, hurdle two is trying to avoid duty free which you have to walk through to get to the terminal and you have to walk through the perfume section but with the lanyard I was able to ask if there was another way I could go and I was taken though another door and then told so much more about ways that my journey can be made easier. This included early boarding- I went onto the plan at the same time as captain and staff who all introduced themselves to me and to just ask if I need anything. All these little things made such a huge difference to me.
When I was travelling I saw no one else with a lanyard. That is not to say there was no one else it was just that I did not see anyone.
I have a huge fear now that the value of the sunflower scheme has been devalued and because so many people have them will the thinking be that you are not that different from anyone else because so many people have them. Will the help be there as readily as it was before.
In the UK I think (and this is just my opinion) a huge mistake was made when they said there could be people exempt from wearing masks. I understand there are some people who cannot wear a mask. I know having spoken to someone with autism how difficult it is to wear something round their face and there are some people with respiratory conditions who also find it very difficult but again from speaking to those with respiratory illness and mainly those with severe respiratory illness they will still wear a mask because for them the risk of getting covid far out weighs the uncomfortable feeling you get when wearing a mask.
This got me thinking that all those who say they are mask exempt due to breathing issues really don’t know what it is like to have an issue with their breathing. Again this is just my thoughts but I agree with others that i will do all I can to make sure I don’t get COVID and if that means wearing a mask and finding it uncomfortable for a bit then I will do it. Wearing a mask is not going to kill me but getting covid may very well do this. Do those who are deciding to not wear a mask realise that they are putting others in danger by doing this as well as putting themselves at greater risk. Before the announcement about mask exemption there were very few people not wearing a mask but as soon as this was announced the number of people not wearing a mask grew and keeps on growing (I know in England you don’t need to wear a mask but in Scotland you do).
One of the biggest bug bears I have is when I see people out smoking and then take out their lanyard before they go into a shop or something. If you can smoke you can wear a mask for a short period of time. It is something that really irks me.
My biggest fear is about the future. Is there going to need to be a new symbol developed to help those with hidden disabilities? I benefitted so much from the help I got when I wore the lanyard in the airport. I know many others who have also benefitted from it too. Will this help still be there? Will we need to justify ourselves as to why we need the help something which we all hate doing and need to make big adjustments and accept our health before we often will ask for the help.
I would be intrigued to do a public poll to see what people actually think the sunflower means. I am pretty sure the majority of the population would say that it means you are mask exempt. I wholly believe that those who decide not to wear a mask have no real idea of what it is like to struggle to breath.
I have a sunflower lanyard and this is a huge help and I use it when I need to. I also can be exempt from wearing a mask if I wish. I did apply through the Scottish government to get one of their mask exempt cards because this is more official than the sunflower lanyard and the other mask exempt cards. There has only been one occasion where I did not wear a mask and that was because I was really struggling with an acute asthma exacerbation and even struggled to have my nebuliser mask on my face. It was essential to go out and go into the chemist to get medication. Had this not been the case I would not have gone out. I feel that if I am in a position where I cant wear a mask then I should not be going out either.
On the subject of face mask there are so many different options out there and I am sure there is an option for the majority of the population. A face covering does not need to be a mask it can be a scarf or a buff which we all wear in winter without an issue (I wonder if this winter all these people who say they are mask exempt will go without a scarf too when it is cold?). I have tried a range of different coverings to see what is best for me and what suits me. There is something for everyone.
For those who decide they are mask exempt please think about what you are doing. It is not only you that is being put at risk but others are put at risk because of your lack of mask, much like those who don’t get the vaccine or don’t self isolate when they should. It is not just them that they are putting at risk but others are too.
Just think about why you are wearing the sunflower lanyard and why you are deciding not to wear a mask.