Why is the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower program so important to you?
We live in a very ableist world, but the Sunflower program helps to spread awareness that people may need to do things a bit differently, sometimes out of the ‘norm’. I have several chronic health conditions. My primary diagnoses are Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), Lipoedema and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As part of my condition my joints slip in and out of place easily and I can strain my neck by simply washing my hair.
I’ve stopped using public transport because I get judged for wanting to sit down. If there’s a sudden jolt and I’m holding on, I can subluxate my shoulder. I get the classic comment “Well you don’t look disabled.” I’ve been yelled at for using my disability parking permit, because they think I’ve stolen my grandparent’s permit!These comments play on my battles with internalised ableism, where you feel like an imposter. The Sunflower program helps me feel more justified in asking for extra assistance.
How will the Sunflower program help you in your role?
By the increased presence and knowledge of it in the community and by me wearing my sunflower badge should encourage kind and respectful interactions. As part of my neurodiversity, I enjoy the way the Libraries Services and Programs Officer role is designed. I have short shifts where my focus is customer services then I tend to have solace and recovery time when I’m shelving and putting books back in perfect numerical or alphabetical order.
Some people with hidden disabilities mean they do engage in different ways which may not seem polite or standard. For example, my neurodiversity means I don’t like standing too close to customers or having them touch me, so I do tend to step back. Also, if I’m with a customer and there’s another conversation going on around me, it’s very difficult for me to concentrate. The representation of the Sunflower will help me ask them if we can move away from the background noise and give me space to feel comfortable.
The primary thing I worry about is if I’m insulting people, but how I engage with others is not about anyone else, it’s about how I manage my hidden disability. The Sunflower is such a great way to start up a conversation around someone's needs and requirements.
How has the Shire supported this program?
By having access to a Sunflower-branded wristband, lanyard, and pin from any of our libraries, our website or the Mornington Peninsula Visitor Information Centre in Dromana we’ll hopefully start to see more of a local presence for the program.
I’m excited to see more people proudly displaying their sunflowers and hearing more people asking how they can help?
What’s life like working with a hidden disability?
Nobody should have work opportunities limited by their disabilities and working in libraries means I can do the job I want. The Shire has supported me by starting a flexible working arrangement because the job is very physical. This is giving me enough recovery time and mental capacity to study for my Graduate Diploma in Librarianship.
My hidden disability is a huge part of who I am and who I have become, the empathy I’ve built and the out of the box thinking, creativity and problem-solving skills I’ve developed. Having a supportive employer who sees my differences as a valuable addition and not a burden that has to be accommodated for, has been great.
I’ve known about the Sunflower program for a few years now, however the lack of presence and knowledge of it within my local community prevented me from participating. I am so excited to be a part of an organisation who has adopted the Sunflower and is helping to educating others.
What advice would you give to any local business or organisation that hasn't heard of the Sunflower?
Jump on the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower website and find out how you can get involved. We need more education for people who deal with customers with a disability hidden or otherwise. There are so many physical accessibility and inclusion attitudes that need to be addressed.