Making the hidden disability experience visible

How good would it be if this sunflower icon, to help identify people with a hidden disability, was as recognisable everywhere for what it is as the white stick that tells us someone has impaired sight?

It’s brilliant to see Liverpool John Lennon Airport adopt the sunflower and lanyard, the latest in a growing list of organisations, especially in the aviation and travel sectors. To be clear, it’s not about queue jumping or special privileges. The sunflower helps employees identify those who have a hidden disability so they can provide pre-emptive and relevant support in their built environment.

Speaking as a parent of someone with a learning disability, they really make a difference. To know that employees understand you might be just a hair-trigger away from a major meltdown, and the consequences that brings, is incredibly reassuring.

But airports, airlines, rail companies and supermarkets are just the tip of the iceberg.

I’d love to see a day when we’re just walking down the street, in the park or in a shop and the sunflower sends a recognisable yet subtle signal to anyone nearby that there’s a perfectly good reason not to jump to conclusions about the behaviour they see.

I tie a lanyard to my son’s scooter in the hope that, one day, people coming the other way will see it and so diffuse any awkward or unpredictable situation. A quick glance at Charlie may not reveal any signs of what lies beneath. But there are times when his social skills are not typical. I don’t blame employees or other members of the public for judging but it’s not great to know they are wondering “Are they stoned?”, “Are they a threat?”, “Has he got no control over that lad?” or – if they take advantage of support available – “Oh, the cheek of it”.

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So on behalf of people – and the family or carers with them – who might find interacting with the environment your organisation has created a challenge, a small plea: if you have customers visiting you, how might you provide sunflower icon on lanyards or wristbands? Or, at least, train your staff to recognise them for what they are if they appear at your place?

Other symbols and devices are available but there is also an argument for just one to become ubiquitous, to help your customers whether they’re on your site or on their home turf.

The wider its use, the more recognisable it becomes in Society and the better that must be for everyone.

A low-cost, simple design that can make a huge difference.  And for those whose leadership team still needs a business case beyond being the right thing to do, the commercial benefits are there too. If you make the experience easier, calmer and more empathetic for a customer why wouldn’t they want to keep coming back, spending their money with you and telling everyone else to do the same? Get it right for people with a disability and chances are, you’ll get it right for everyone – and your balance sheet too.

Finally, once again, huge credit and thanks to the brilliant, passionate people who are creating real momentum around these issues especially in the aviation world – people like Maria Cook, Geraldine Lundy, Samantha Saunders, Roberto Castiglioni, Chris Wood, Graham Rice, Cathy Nyfors, Eric Lipp, Bonnie Haye, Linda Ristagno, James Freemantle and many more.

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Thank you for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed it and found it thought-provoking.  

I’m Jerry Angrave and I help people in organisations create better and more commercially-minded customer experiences. I’m a CCXP (Certified Customer Experience Professional), a CX consultant and am one of a handful of people globally who are authorised by the CXPA to train CX professionals for its accreditation.

Do get in touch if you’ve any comments on the blog, any questions around the wider competencies of CX or are interested in consultancy or training support.

Thank you,

Jerry 

[email protected]   |   www.empathyce.com   |   +44 (0) 7917 718072

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