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We’re using our Feel The Difference Fund to support the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme

I love my job as the Wellness Service Manager at Virgin Care in Bath and North East Somerset and am committed to it, But I think it is fair that I point out I have another full-time job – as a mum.

My eight-year old son James has autism and faces a range of difficult challenges on a daily basis.

And I can honestly say he inspires me every day with his strength, determination and ability to take each day as it comes. Even when some are harder than others.

Sometimes it can be particularly challenging when other people cannot immediately recognise that James has a disability, as it is not always noticeable.

He may take a little longer to communicate what he is trying to say, or he might demonstrate behaviours that others could find unusual. And because you wouldn’t be able to identify this just by looking at him, his disability is considered ‘hidden’.

One thing that has made myself and James’ life easier when it comes to living with a hidden disability is the Sunflower lanyards. These lanyards are part of a nationally recognised scheme, the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Scheme.

James wears his lanyard when we go shopping or out and about for the day, and it will subtly alert the people around us that he, or all of us as a family, may require some extra time, patience, or support. It makes others aware of James’ hidden disability and allows him to be seen.

I have often had comments from passers-by such as, “Why is your son doing that?” or, “Your son doesn’t look autistic.” This scheme lets others realise on their own, without me having to explain, that James finds things slightly harder than the rest of us.

After seeing the incredible benefits that the scheme has had for my family, I felt inspired to introduce the sunflower into Virgin Care. The most straightforward way to do this was to apply for a grant from our Feel the Difference (FTD) Fund.

This is a £100,000 a year fund provided by Virgin Care that colleagues can apply to so that they can kick start an innovative idea that will create a better experience for patient and service users.

Our application to purchase 500 sunflower lanyards to distribute across our services in Bath and North East Somerset was accepted, this means that as an organisation we can support one another, challenge preconceived ideas around hidden disabilities and promote positive change.

And they have a further purpose during the current Covid-19 pandemic as the lanyards can help identify those who may be exempt from wearing a face mask, creating a greater understanding among others, as well as highlight that they may need assistance with queuing or social distancing. After all, the new ‘normal’ that we have found ourselves living in throughout 2020 presents unfamiliar environments that can be hard to process for those with disabilities.

It is so important that we all take a little extra time to consider those around us, to acknowledge, identify and understand what they are going through. I am so pleased and proud that our organisation has taken this step to raise awareness of hidden disabilities.

As you can tell, this project is close to my heart. You can hear more about it on a BBC Radio Somerset interview I was asked to do about this here.

The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower was designed and launched in 2016, and the discreet indication that the symbol gives makes hidden disabilities a lot easier for the sufferer to live with. You can find more about it here.

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Virgin Care

James wearing his lanyard.

James and Sarah.

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Virgin Care

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