Sunflower lanyards offer travelers with hidden disabilities a little extra help while navigating TPA

Traveling through the airport can be stressful for anyone, but the experience can be particularly overwhelming for people with certain conditions or disabilities. Tampa International Airport rolled out a new program to help reduce that anxiety.

The swarms of people, the sounds, and the scramble of airport travel can be overwhelming.

"I’m hypersensitive to crowds of people, and the noise of planes in the air, taking off and landing," explained Cameron Neubauer.

The 16-year-old Tampa teen has Asperger Syndrome.  A condition that is not apparent to everyone, but causes Cameron anxiety in social situations.

It is that type of hidden disabilities the Sunflower Lanyard Program aims to ease.

"We hope that we give them actually comfort, and give them just a sense of security that's ok and safe to travel and navigate through our facility," said Christine Phillips, TPA Senior Manager of Guest Experience.

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The sunflower lanyards have been available at TPA since November, and we are told about 130 have been handed out.  It is a way for travelers to discreetly identify they have a hidden disability and may need more patience or extra compassion navigating the airport.

"If I know that my husband can have a stress-free experience, it's going to be far easier, because it's not only the person who has the autism, it's the person who's with them," shared Penny Bailey.

Her husband, Graham, wore a sunflower lanyard on their trip from England to Tampa in December. She said the extra support and assistance has made flying much more enjoyable -- especially for her 22-year-old daughter who is also on the spectrum.

"It means she can get around more, she can do more, and be that really strong, independent person that she wants to be in her life," Penny said.

It started in the U.K. in 2016, and now the sunflower is a globally recognized symbol for hidden disabilities. The lanyard program has been adopted in 35 U.S. airports, including at least seven in Florida.

"It will create awareness of disability that isn't apparent to everyone," said Cameron.

He says he plans to pick one up the next time he is TPA.

"I definitely am, because yeah, next trip is going to be in a couple of months and that is going to be pretty cool," he said.

The sunflower lanyards are available on level 3 of the main terminal at the information kiosk near Starbucks. They are completely free – no questions asked.