Interview: The JCR officer behind the Murray Edwards implementation of free Sunflower lanyards

The Tab speaks to Ruth Shaw about her implementation of sunflower lanyards at Medwards


Murray Edwards College has become the first Cambridge college to formally recognise the ‘hidden disabilities lanyard’, also known as the ‘sunflower lanyard’. I spoke to Ruth Shaw, the Medwards JCR Disabilities Officer about how receptive the college has been, as well as how important it is for disabled students and staff to have their access needs met.

We spoke about how the sunflower lanyard became almost synonymous with mask exemption during the pandemic, however they were actually established in 2016, well before this point. When asked what the lanyard meant for her, Ruth said that “the lanyard is a way of showing on the outside that you have a disability, invisible or not.” Ruth told me that “it is actually estimated around 80 per cent of disabilities are invisible.”

The Hidden Disabilities sunflower website defines the lanyard as a “globally recognised symbol for non-visible disabilities, also known as hidden disabilities or invisible disabilities.” They list some of the disabilities that are not visible or immediately obvious but “impact day to day life”, and that people may choose to wear the “Hidden Disabilities Sunflower to discreetly identify that they may need support, help, or just a little more time in shops, transport, or public spaces.”

According to their website and the Back to Campus Campaign the University of Cambridge is not included in the list of UK universities that formally recognise the lanyard, but some individual colleges have appeared on the list. Anglia Ruskin and the University of Oxford are also on the list, so it seems it is time Cambridge makes steps towards a formal recognition as well.

A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge commented that “the University is in the process of considering formal recognition of the sunflower lanyard in consultation with the Students’ Union.”

 

(Image credits: Ruth Shaw)

 

But what is really important to Ruth, more so than names on lists, is raising awareness and helping disabled students have their needs met. Alongside the Murray Edwards JCR Social Media officer Sophie Head, the two are planning college-based content to raise awareness and make the college more accessible to disabled students.

You can see an example of the Sunflower Lanyard and Sticker on Ruth’s shelves (Image Credits: Ruth Shaw)

Ruth told the Tab that “once we have time and energy, as being a disabled student at Cambridge is very difficult, we have some plans for social media content” as well as other “small things” that can make “a big difference to a disabled student.” Some of the small changes she has already implemented alongside the introduction of the Sunflower Lanyards, include using Sans Serif fonts in the weekly JCR bulletin or including a TL;DR (to name a few.)

This is an example of some of the things Ruth and Sophie have been working on! (Image Credits: Ruth Shaw)

Ruth told us that not having your needs met as a disabled person can make “it feel like the problem lies with you,” but the Sunflower lanyards can help indicate this! She suggested that you don’t feel the need to “justify your actions.” This is particularly relevant during the pandemic, as there may be instances in which someone might have to “go against the one-way system” in order to gain step-free access. Here, the lanyard can then indicate to people around them that they have a disability and avoid unnecessary comments or conflict.

The Sunflower Lanyard can also be an indicator to other disabled students that they “are not alone.” Ruth told me about how starting university in the pandemic meant that she did not meet any other disabled students and found this to be “very isolating.” Whereas with the implementation of this initiative she can clearly see other disabled students in college which has been “nice to see other students wearing theirs!”

If you would like to get in contact with Ruth you can do so on the Murray Edwards JCR disabilities email ( [email protected] )

Feature Image Credits: Olivia Bradley

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