The Straw Ban Disadvantages People With Disabilities

Since the beginning of the summer, it seems as though this straw conversation has been everywhere from social media to large company advertisements.

If you are unfamiliar with what I am talking about, many people are speaking out against the use of plastic straws because they often end up entering our oceans and seriously injuring aquatic animals (However, it is important to note that straws are not doing the most damage).

One popular but painful to watch video that has been going around shows a turtle with a straw lodged up its nose and a group of humans working to remove the stuck piece of plastic while making sure the turtle experiences as little pain as possible. After seeing this video, it is only natural to reconsider your impact on the global landscape and even stop using straws all together.

Large companies like Starbucks, Walt Disney World, and even hotels like the Hyatt chain are some of the major players who have recently committed to the elimination of plastic straws at their establishments. Starbucks, for one, has committed to “eliminate single-use plastic straws from its more than 28,000 company operated and licensed stores by making a strawless lid or alternative-material straw options available, around the world.” Starbucks has also stated that it will continue having access to straws upon request by customers who may need them.

While these changes may bring joy to environmental rights activists and social media consumers who do not take the time to look beyond the 30 second video clips of viral news, it is important to remember the setbacks the elimination of straws may bring.

For instance, in a Vice piece by S.E. Smith titled “Straw ban: it’s a win for environmentalists. But it ignores us disabled people”, Smith writes about how the elimination of plastic straws would not be in the best interest of those with disabilities and the alternatives being suggested may not be effective. In the piece, they write about how the materials alternative straws are made out of of may not work for people who may be allergic to the material. They also mention how reusable straws may be difficult to sterilize and really do more harm than good, and how biodegradable ones may become choking hazards when combined with hot liquids.  


Youtuber Andrea Lausell also speaks about the negative effects that may come with banning straws during an interview on the podcast Locatora Radio and explains similar points to Smith while also expanding on the fact that straws were originally designed for hospital patients who were unable to drink liquids on their own, and how banning plastic straws would be inconsiderate to a specific demographic. She also comments on the fact that many businesses are still willing to offer plastic straws upon request, but how asking for straws may come with harassment and even guilt tripping.


My intention with writing this piece is not to make anyone feel embarrassed by their activism or to make anyone throw away that pack of glass straws they bought, but more so to show how an entire community may be impacted by this change that is supposed to be beneficial for all. Huge companies may not be hearing this narrative enough and providing answers to the question of how this will impact people with disabilities, and I hope that this piece can contribute to those asking similar questions. So please continue using your glass straws and recycling (I know I will), but also remember that not everyone has the same story and access.