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Tampa airport launches program to help people with hidden disabilities

Sunflower lanyard
Posted at 11:51 AM, Jan 27, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa International Airport aims to make traveling as stress-free as possible for people with certain conditions or disabilities and their families through the recently launched Sunflower Lanyard program.

Eliza Ruthruff’s 21-year-old daughter has a genetic disorder. She says she’s pretty non-verbal and has physical limitations.

“As a grown person traveling with a disabled grown adult too, it’s a lot of responsibility, and my daughter can feel the energy of other people, so if I’m stressed out, she will get stressed out,” said Ruthruff.

Ruthruff found some relief for their trip to LA in December through TPA’s Sunflower Lanyard program, which launched in November.

“Patience and time are the things you need the most. Everything takes a little bit longer,” said Ruthruff. “This program just gave me such an ease.”

TPA says the Sunflower Lanyardwas first adopted in the UK years ago and quickly gained recognition in the US. Christine Phillips, TPA’s Senior Manager of Guest Experience, says the goal is to identify people with hidden or invisible disabilities discreetly.

“The lanyard just identifies them discreetly for anybody in the airport to be able to give them extra assistance if needed to navigate our facility without them having to say anything,” said Phillips.

Phillips says they’ve given out about 75 lanyards since launching the program. The lanyards and screening-friendly sunflower stickers signal to staff that someone might need extra time or patience.

“It just gives them that little extra support,” said Phillips.

Guest experience representatives don’t ask questions or require sharing information. Families say the extra support from the program helps ease any stress.

“When traveling with children or adults or anybody with an exceptionality, hidden or not, the support was really, really priceless,” said Ruthruff.

The Sunflower Lanyards are available on level three of the main terminal at the information kiosk near Starbucks.

People can come to the kiosk from 4 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. to collect a lanyard.

Mary O'Connell at WFTS first reported this story.