Why the Straw Ban Is Problematic for People with Disabilities

Restaurants and companies have started to remove plastic straws from their locations in different cities, and some cities have banned straws entirely, such as Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and Vancouver. Plastic straws are harmful to the environment, as they are not biodegradable and require a lot of heat to disintegrate. Major companies, like Starbucks, American Airlines, and others, that have pledged to decrease the use of plastic straws in their establishments. Starbucks recently announced that they will no longer sell straws by 2020, and #stopsucking has become popular on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites. Lately, there has also been a rise of celebrities who have been pushing their fans to support the straw ban. Environmentalists, too, support the straw ban, as they want to reduce pollution and prevent more species from becoming endangered or extinct. Their hope is that plastic straws are banned everywhere in the world, and the speed at which this ban is taking effect has been surprisingly quick.

I support taking measures to help prevent further damage to our planet. However, the plastic straw ban is actually problematic for people with disabilities. Plastic straws are a necessity for people who have disabilities that give them limited mobility. In fact, straws were invented to help hospital patients during the 50s.

These plastic straws were bendable, allowing the patients be able to drink or eat from any position. This material also reduced the chance of spreading diseases between patients. Although there are alternative materials for straws, such as metal, bamboo, and paper, the problem is that there is a flaw in each of these materials for differently abled people.

Metal cannot bend, which makes it difficult for some people who may not have control over moving their heads. Paper can disintegrate quickly, making it difficult for some people to be able to drink water or have their food. Some materials are not safe for high temperatures or are simply too expensive. There are also straws that could break easily, making it dangerous for some people, and others may contain allergens that could be life threatening. Reusable straws have become popular, but they are difficult to sterilize and thus are more likely to transmit diseases.  

I, fortunately, don’t have to rely on straws to live, but there are people with more severe disabilities that depend on them. There is a wide spectrum of disabilities that could face difficulties due to the plastic straw ban. Some may not need it, while others may need it to survive because they might not be able to use sippy cups or drink out of a standard cup. The straws also help those who may not be able to use their limbs to lift the cup. Some may have tremors that prevent them from being able to lift their cup without spilling anything. The straws also help prevent choking caused by accidentally getting liquid into the lungs.

I am a student with a disability and a supporter for saving the environment. Some people might guilt or shame differently abled people who need plastic straws, and this is not okay. Differently abled people shouldn't be shamed for the things that make life more accessible. They live in a world that is not meant for people with disabilities, which is something I can relate to. It has been more than 20 years since the American with Disabilities Act was passed, and yet there are still limits for people with disabilities. There are establishments that don’t take into account what might be difficult for people with disabilities rather than abled people. Many differently abled people are constantly scrutinized or have to prove that they have a disability. Sometimes when people with disabilities ask for something, they always find themselves having to explain why they need it, which can get exhausting.

In my opinion, the straw ban is actually pushing an ableist agenda, which I am not a big fan of. Ableism is known as discrimination in favor of able people. There are people with disabilities that support saving the environment, but need straws. Whenever they try to explain why they need straws, people will immediately start screaming at them to use a different kind of straw. Telling people to use reusable straws or a different material is not the solution. If we want to create and live in a more inclusive environment, we need to validate people with disabilities and include them in the conversation. People with disabilities deserve to be heard, which is a reason why the straw ban shouldn't be taken into effect immediately.

Images: 1234