- Sunflower lanyards are worn by people with hidden disabilities to show they may need assistance.
- Insider has discovered anti-maskers boasting about using them to avoid wearing face coverings.
- The company behind the lanyards said its lawyers worked to remove counterfeits from Amazon and eBay.
Anti-maskers have been using counterfeit exemption cards to avoid wearing face coverings in shops, theaters, and other indoor public spaces, Insider has found.
The Hidden Disabilities Sunflower lanyard launched in 2016 in the UK; in 2019 in Australia; and in 2020 in the US and Canada.
They are meant to signify that wearers have a hidden disability, such as autism, and may need extra assistance in public. The program doesn’t ask questions of people requesting them, but it does ask people not to sell them.
But Insider found hundreds of items mimicking the lanyard’s design for sale online, as well as anti-maskers boasting on social media about acquiring lanyards and, in some cases, directing others to Amazon and eBay to buy them.
Hidden Disabilities told Insider that its lawyers worked to remove “counterfeit products on eBay and Amazon,” but that doing so was “frustrating and costly.”
“As soon as we manage to remove a listing, they are relisted under a different name,” the company said. “Unauthorized and counterfeit resellers damage our organization and depreciate the impact of the Sunflower.”
In a “direct message to anti-maskers,” it added: “Any fraudulent use of the Sunflower negates the good work we have done to support and increase the awareness of the challenges faced by people with invisible disabilities.”
“Our business is about good faith. We do not ask for proof of the wearer’s disability, as some are yet to be diagnosed or have conditions that are difficult to diagnose,” the company continued.
The Amazon and eBay items that Insider identified featured variations of the green and yellow sunflower design.
Whereas the official lanyards come with cards explaining the wearer’s hidden disability, the counterfeits come with a card that says, “I am exempt from wearing a mask.”
Searching Twitter for “sunflower lanyard mask exempt,” “sunflower lanyard eBay or Amazon,” and “disability exemption,” immediately surfaced tweets where anti-maskers recommended listings of mask-exempt lanyards to avoid scrutiny from security guards who enforce the mask requirement in shops and train stations.
One said, “(Flashing the sunflower lanyard (Amazon) occasionally is great too, people think you have a hidden disability 😂).”
Another wrote: “I’ve got my sunflower lanyard I bought off ebay. I won’t wear it unless challenged and then I will just slide it around my neck and walk off.”
On the Facebook group “Ireland Breathes Free,” one user posted photos of himself in September 2020 wearing the lanyard while flying from Dublin Airport without a mask.
When another user said he wouldn’t wear a lanyard because he wouldn’t “make some lame disability excuse,” the lanyard wearer replied, “Your ‘disability’ is that it makes you feel extremely uncomfortable, because that’s how I feel when I wear a mask for a prolonged period of time.”
On Instagram, one user said they acquired a Sunflower lanyard because their “disability” is that they’ve “got a strong case of Loving freedom.”
“God bless the Sunflower Lanyard Set,” tweeted one anti-masker on June 10. “I grudgingly reached for my mask only to see the staffer w/lanyard. We had a laugh abt COVID madness & what’s REALLY going on.”
“Lanyard is better than a muzzle,” another replied.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company took “swift action” against sellers who violate its policies, “including suspending or removing selling privileges.”
Amazon added, “We take this responsibility seriously, monitor our decision accuracy, and maintain a high bar.”
eBay did not respond to requests for comment.