Nationwide scheme to boost disabled people’s confidence in train travel

All of Britain’s rail companies are now recognising Sunflower lanyards and cards so that passengers with non-visible disabilities can travel with extra confidence. The move coincides with the expected lifting of restrictions on people shielding next week.

All train operators and Network Rail are now signed up to the Sunflower scheme, designed to enable people with non-visible disabilities to discreetly let others know that they might require a little more time, support or assistance. It comes as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ people, some of whom may wish to use the Sunflower lanyards and cards, are expected to no longer be asked to shield and so may be considering taking the train.

Every operator across England, Scotland and Wales will recognise the Sunflower symbol for non-visible disabilities, with staff being trained to identify it when people choose to wear a lanyard or show a card.

The Sunflower is a subtle but visible sign to rail staff that the wearer may need extra help or time on their journey. While people needing assistance are not required to wear a lanyard or carry a card, the scheme can provide people who wish to use it with extra reassurance.

LNER was the first train company to join the scheme in April 2019 and issued more than 10,000 sunflower lanyards during the first 12 months. Southeastern also piloted it from October last year alongside a similar initiative for people with non-visible disabilities, the JAM card.

c2c, ScotRail, TPE, Avanti West Coast, Hull Trains, Greater Anglia, Transport for Wales Rail and Eurostar all joined the scheme earlier this year. Now, all train operators are working together to recognise the Sunflower and improve train travel for people with non-visible disabilities.

This is part of a wider programme of work to make the railway more accessible for more people. Rail companies are training all frontline staff on accessibility and inclusion, introducing 8,000 new, more accessible train carriages by 2025 and delivering investment in accessibility improvements at stations. Staff are also being given additional advice on how to support disabled passengers in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

With more people returning to the railway, Britain’s train companies have published a Safer Travel Pledge to maximise space, boost cleaning, help with hygiene and improve information so that passengers can travel safely.

As part of the industry’s continued commitment to improve accessibility on the railway, passengers who would like a Sunflower lanyard or card can pick one up at participating ticket offices across England, Scotland and Wales.

Robert Nisbet, Director of Nations and Regions at the Rail Delivery Group, said:

“We want the railway to be accessible for everyone. The Sunflower scheme can help people with non-visible disabilities feel more confident asking for assistance, whether that’s to buy a ticket, find their way or get reassurance that the next train is theirs. Passengers returning to train travel after lockdown will also benefit from wider staff training to improve disability awareness and the 8,000 new, more accessible train carriages we are introducing by 2025.”

Disability blogger and freelance writer Chloe Tear, who regularly uses the sunflower lanyard, said:

“I believe the sunflower lanyard is a great initiative that gives disabled people control around discussing their condition. The subtle symbol means we won’t have to continuously explain and often justify our needs if they are invisible to others.

“Despite having a physical disability and being partially sighted, if my cane is folded up and I’m sat down it wouldn’t be hard to mistake me for a non-disabled young woman. The fear around not receiving support or being judged for using priority seats is eased by the sunflower lanyard and card.”

Chloe sunflower

Accessibility Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said:

“Our railways must be open to everyone, and the Sunflower lanyard is a brilliant initiative to help passengers with non-visible disabilities travel with confidence across the rail network.

“As restrictions ease, and more and more people gradually return to the railway, it is more important than ever that we consider those around us when we travel by train. That includes passengers with non-visible disabilities who may be exempt from wearing a face covering.”

James Taylor, executive director of strategy, impact and social change at disability equality charity Scope, said:

“This is good news for disabled people who might choose to wear a Sunflower Lanyard and make others aware they have a hidden condition.

“Scope research has found half of disabled people have experienced negative attitudes when using public transport. In recent weeks, disabled people who are exempt from wearing face masks have told us they have been challenged by others while travelling.

“We expect to see more good work like this across the industry to improve attitudes towards disability and make travelling easier.”

Tom Purser, Head of Campaigns at the National Autistic Societysaid:

“It’s great to see all the country’s train companies signing up to improve their support for passengers with hidden disabilities, including autistic people. If you’re autistic, a busy train or sudden diversion can trigger intense anxiety, leaving you completely overwhelmed. It’s even worse if other people start staring or even tutting.

“We hope the lanyards will help staff and passengers to recognise these often hidden difficulties, including if, during the coronavirus outbreak, someone chooses to use one to show that they’re not able to wear a face covering due to their disability. But it must be accompanied by wider work to make the whole public transport system more autism friendly, particularly introducing autism training for staff.”

While some rail companies also have their own schemes to enable people to discreetly identify themselves as potentially needing extra help, all operators will now recognise the Sunflower symbol, currently used by UK airports, venues, supermarkets, the NHS and some emergency services. This will mean passengers can choose to be part of one scheme as they move between train travel and other parts of everyday life.