Many of you have probably heard about the recent bans on plastic straws. The bans came after a lot of social campaigning for people to stop using the “unnecessary” plastic, which can become pollution in the ocean. Photos of people switching to trendy metal straws have been the fad in recent months.
The big issue there is that plastic straws aren’t unnecessary. They are necessary for many people with disabilities. This can vary from people with coordination difficulties, tremors in the arms or hands, low blood pressure, limited muscle control, facial tics, etc. If you can’t drink without a straw, where does that leave you?
Now, many people would say to use a reusable straw or other straw option instead. There’s multiple issues with those options, too. For one, they are more expensive and can be difficult to clean. People who already have mobility or hand control issues will not be able to clean them easily. Paper straws dissolve after a relatively short amount of time, meaning that people who take longer to drink would be unable to use it well, and it could create a choking hazard. Paper and plant-based plastic straws also run risks of allergens. Paper, glass, and acrylic are not good options for hotter drinks. A huge thing for many disabled people is the fact that none of the options, aside from a few reusable plastic straws, offer the ability to position the straw—which means that they could still be unable to drink from it. Glass also runs the risk of breaking and causing injury. Metal straws can be even more dangerous, in that regard.
One disabled person has already died from using a reusable straw instead of a typical plastic one. An older British woman died in November of 2018 from collapsing while holding a drink with a metal straw in it. According to HuffPost, “the 10-inch stainless-steel straw penetrated her left eye and pierced her brain,” resulting in her death.
This is a serious issue, and one that’s becoming a greater issue as more places have adopted straw bans. Starbucks announced in early July that they will completely phase out plastic straws by 2020, creating an entirely new cup design that doesn’t require straws. Going to a whole other extreme, the city of Santa Barbara in California has completely banned the distribution of plastic straws, including compostable ones. People who do not follow their straw ban could face a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
That means that people with such disabilities will not be able to get drinks from Starbucks anymore, unless a lot of planning is done around it. The same applies to anyone living in Santa Barbara—though the law allows exceptions due to the Americans With Disabilities Act, planning will need to be done beforehand.
Can you imagine not being able to do something as basic as to drink? People should not have to be worrying about stocking up on plastic straws, in case they are difficult to find in the future. They should not have to worry about constantly having straws kept clean and secure on them. They should not have to worry about whether the restaurant they’re going to will have disposable straws available. They should not have to worry about whether they can convince the server at that restaurant that they are “disabled enough” to warrant being given a straw, even if the place does have them on hand. They should not have to worry about being ostracized for needing to use a straw. People in the United States should not be worrying about all of these things, just to be able to drink.
This is when it becomes an issue of ableism. People with disabilities shouldn’t have to go that far out of their way to ensure that they’ll be able to do a basic thing that’s necessary for survival, when offering plastic straws is such a simple way to solve the problem and accommodate them. If people are following the thought process of “those people’s needs to live do not matter as much,” then it becomes an issue of ableism.
To put it further into perspective: plastic straws only make up 0.025 percent of plastic waste in the ocean. Though I believe that good change is good, no matter how small, I think we really have to ask ourselves whether that small change is worth the huge damages it can cause to individuals.
For me, the answer is “no.”