Creating visibility for invisible challenges

From 16 May, the Sunflower Lanyards, which signify the wearer has a hidden disability, will be available at our main reception, Emergency Department, Kidz First, Manukau Health Park and with our wayfinding volunteers, as part of a new pilot programme.

We talk to Dr. Josh Manukonga, a medical professional who divides his time between being an Education Fellow at Middlemore Hospital and training as a General Practitioner.

He has kindly shared his insights on the challenges and the importance of acknowledging those with hidden disabilities.

Q: What inspired you to promote awareness around hidden disabilities?

During my fifth year of medical school, I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease that affects the back and spine. Experiencing frequent flare-ups and pain that isn't visible to others inspired me to advocate for awareness.”

Q: How has your condition influenced your daily life and work?

Living with Ankylosing Spondylitis means I have to manage pain and stiffness every day. It affects simple activities like sitting or standing for long periods.

“The exhaustion from flare-ups is particularly challenging, but effective treatment has helped me manage better.

“At mahi, I often have to work around these issues and choose not to tell people why I am randomly getting up from a seat or walking around the room. “

Q: Can you explain how the Sunflower Lanyard helps in your advocacy?

The Sunflower Lanyard is a tohu (symbol) of hidden disabilities and serves as a non-verbal way to signal that someone might need additional understanding or help.

“It's about creating visibility for invisible challenges. In a hospital setting it helps identify colleagues and patients who might share similar experiences, fostering a sense of community and mutual support.”

Q: What advice would you give to others with hidden disabilities?

Embrace tools like the Sunflower Lanyard to subtly inform others about your condition.

“It's a way to advocate for yourself without having to continuously explain your situation. The lanyard not only raises awareness but also encourages kindness and patience from others, making everyday interactions more understanding and supportive.”

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About Sunflower Lanyards:

Sunflower Lanyards will be available at Counties Manukau starting 16 May. They are available for patients, visitors and staff who have a hidden disability, although patient facing clinical staff will be given a  sunflower pin due to uniform policy.

Order yours today at and pick up from reception or pilot sites.


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