TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Tampa International Airport is looking to make travel easier, less hectic and less stressful for travelers with hidden disabilities and their families.
The airport is one of only a few dozen airports across the United States to be part of the “Sunflower Lanyard Program,” which launched in Tampa in November.
The sunflower lanyard features a globally recognized symbol that helps workers in transportation hubs and other public spaces discreetly identify passengers as having a hidden disability. These hidden disabilities can include post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, epilepsy and other conditions.
“What it does is anybody who has an invisible disability, such as autism, can come to our info desk here at the airport, request one of these lanyards, or we also have stickers if they prefer stickers,” explained Emily Nipps, spokesperson for Tampa International Airport.
Nipps said the sunflower symbol signals to others throughout the airport that a person may need a little more care throughout their travels.
“[It shows] maybe the airlines, TSA, that this is an individual who may need a little bit more patience, maybe some more assistance, than somebody else that maybe doesn’t have a disability,” she said.
Airports for many with disabilities can be overwhelming due to the noise, lights and other overwhelming stimulants that come with travel. Those at the airport want to make sure they’re giving extra care to those who need it to feel comfortable. Lanyards are available to those who ask, no questions asked.
The sunflower lanyard has been around in the United Kingdom for years, and is more common there than in the US. Nipps said the airport hopes to help change that.
“We’re trying to get the word out that we have these. Again, it’s fairly new in the US. But the people who do come and they know that we have these, they really appreciate just that extra care that we give to people with disabilities,” she said.
Nipps said the airport’s guest services team, as well as some from the Transportation Security Administration and airport police went through training last year. They participated in a session with the University of South Florida’s Center for Autism & Related Disabilities to learn more about spectrum disorders and how travel can affect those with them. Nipps said they had spoken to the airlines that operate at TPA, as well.
Helping those with invisible disabilities is nothing new for those at TPA, but the Sunflower Lanyard Program makes things a little more official.
“We’ve been working with passengers that have invisible disabilities for quite some time. Sometimes we offer little tours of the airport before they fly,” Nipps said. “It’s not new that we’ve assisted passengers that have these kinds of disabilities, but what’s new is we’re making this program a little bit more official, a little bit more visible for people that want to know that we’re doing something to help the other airport partners know what’s going on.”
Nipps said the airport has given out around 100 lanyards so far and is continuing to spread the word that they are available.
Sunflower lanyards are available on level 3 of the main terminal at the information kiosk, located near Starbucks. More information on TPA’s accessibility services can be found online, or by calling guest services at 813-870-8759.