“Like canaries in a cave mine, the Disabled Ones said, ‘We need plastic straws to drink, for nutrition and hydration. We deserve access without requests. Exemptions by the non-disableds cannot protect us.’ And like this howling wind, the voices of disabled people were drowned out as accessibility was sacrificed for a zero-waste life, not knowing the value of single-use plastics would have to save the human race post-plague. Now we search high and low for straws for first aid and other plastics to stay alive while the alien strain claim more of our kind everyday. We, the Disabled Ones, had stockpiles for our survival as the Soft Ones [a.k.a. The Non Disableds] withered away with their hemp bandages and pasta straws. We are still here, fighting for everyone. What is the lesson, my little ones?”View of The Rise and Fall of the Plastic Straw | Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience
When disabled people tell you what’s up, listen. Design and policy are tested at the edges. Thinking you can solve a complicated accessibility issue you’ve never previously pondered in the span of a Twitter thread is ableist, dismissive, and condescending. We live this. We live the medical ableism, medical misogyny, medical racism, medical trauma, politics of resentment, behaviorism, and inspiration porn. We know how accessibility degrades to accommodation degrades to forced intimacy, resentment, exclusion, and shame.
Forced intimacy is a cornerstone of how ableism functions in an able bodied supremacist world. Disabled people are expected to “strip down” and “show all our cards” metaphorically in order to get the basic access we need in order to survive. We are the ones who must be vulnerable-whether we want to or not-about ourselves, our bodyminds and our abilities. Forced intimacy was one of the many ways I learned that consent does not exist for my disabled asian girl bodymind. People are allowed to ask me intrusive questions about my body, make me “prove” my disability or expect me to share with them every aspect of my accessibility needs. I learned how to simultaneously shrink myself and nonconsensually open myself up as a disabled girl of color every damn day.Forced Intimacy: An Ableist Norm | Leaving Evidence
What people don’t understand with bans like this is that having to ask for a plastic straw puts an unfair burden, and scrutiny, on people with disabilities. They should not have to prove a medical need or even disclose their disability status when having a fun night out with friends. This is not hospitality.Why Disabled People Need Plastic Straws – Eater
Instead of negating and speaking over us…
Excerpted below are perspectives from autistic and disabled people and our allies.
Suddenly Leo jumps up from the table again and says to his father, “Green straw?” It is not yet time for his first green straw of the day, but he will get one before the school bus pulls into the driveway— one of tens of thousands of wide, bright green Starbucks straws that Leo has used over the years for the purpose of stimming (self-stimulation), one of the things that autistic people do to regulate their anxiety. They also clearly enjoy it. When nonautistic people do it, it’s called fidgeting and it’s rarely considered pathological.
A red straw from Burger King can occasionally fit the bill, or a blue one from Peet’s. Clear straws from Costco just don’t cut it. But a green straw from Starbucks is Leo’s Platonic stim. If Shannon allowed him to do so, he would take a green straw to bed with him, or even better, a pair— one between his lips and the other in his toes. He would stim in the bath, on the toilet, and jumping on the trampoline.
It’s not easy or pleasant asking for help in public spaces like restaurants, because you never know what attitudes you’ll encounter: indifference, pity, or outright rejection. I don’t see these types of help as special treatment or inspirational for someone to surreptitiously post on social media as feel-good clickbait; they’re simply examples of excellent hospitality.
Starbucks’s announcement — and the news that Vancouver and Seattle recently banned plastic straws, with other cities, like New York and San Francisco, contemplating proposals — struck a raw nerve with me for several reasons (and I won’t even get into the problems of recyclable plastics and greenwashing):
1. Plastic straws are considered unnecessary items used by environmentalists as a “gateway plastic” to engage the public on a larger conversation about waste. According to Dune Ives, executive director of the Lonely Whale Foundation, “Plastic straws are social tools and props, the perfect conversation starter.” But one person’s social prop is another person’s conduit for nutrition. It’s as if people who rely on straws — older adults, children, and disabled people — don’t matter and that our needs are less important than the environment. I feel erased by these attitudes.
2. Plastic straws are ubiquitous, whether we like it or not. Once you have something that provides access, it is difficult and harmful to take it away from a marginalized community that depends on it. I live in a world that was never built for me, and every little bit of access is treasured and hard-won. Bans on plastic straws are regressive, not progressive.
The plastic straw ban is symptomatic of larger systemic issues when it comes to the continual struggle for disability rights and justice. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 28 next week, on July 26, and yet people with disabilities continue to face barriers at eating establishments. The ADA is considered by many small businesses (and the National Restaurant Association) as a source of frivolous lawsuits brought by greedy lawyers and clients. Ableist attitudes that cast disabled people as “fakers” or “complainers” obscure the very real and painful experiences of not being able to eat and drink freely.
As demand increases for alternatives to plastic, so do the voices from the disability communitysharing their concerns about how these bans will create additional labor, hurdles, and difficulties. On social media, many disabled people have been sharing their stories and keeping it 100 percent real. I observed and experienced all sorts of microaggressions and outright dismissal of what disabled people are saying online.
This is the experience of living in a world that was never built for you: having to explain and defend yourself while providing infinite amounts of labor at the demand of people who do not recognize their nondisabled privilege. There are days when I want to put this on repeat: “Believe disabled people. Period.” I refuse to apologize or feel shame about the way my body works and how I navigate in the world. Everyone consumes goods and creates waste. We all do what we can to reduce, reuse, and recycle. We should recognize that different needs require different solutions. I’m not a monster for using plastic straws or other plastic items that allow me to live, such as oxygen tubes.
What people don’t understand with bans like this is that having to ask for a plastic straw puts an unfair burden, and scrutiny, on people with disabilities. They should not have to prove a medical need or even disclose their disability status when having a fun night out with friends. This is not hospitality.
Every few months, another city, state, or country announces that it’s banning the use of plastic straws. These policies are meant to lead the way in removing plastics from the ocean, but, according to our best estimates, straws are not a major source of marine plastic pollution, and such laws are unlikely to have a noticeable affect on the levels of plastic entering our waters. The proposed bans do, however, have the unintended effect of making restaurants less accessible for many disabled people, while revealing the ableism embedded in far too much consumer-based environmentalism.
There’s a better way. Instead of bans, we should shift all our use of disposable plastics from opt-out to opt-in. At the same time, let’s recognize the limits of focusing on consumer choice. Want to reduce plastics in the ocean? Make the producers pay for their waste.
For Peters and many other disabled people, the fixation on banning straws feels arbitrary. As I wrote for Pacific Standard last year, straws provide a simple, accessible means for many disabled people to drink. My son, who has Down syndrome, is one of them. His mastery of drinking through ubiquitous plastic straws makes every restaurant and gas station a place where he can a drink without worrying. Straw bans erode that easy accessibility. Moreover, every time people like me raise the importance of plastic straws, we get bombarded with well-meaning attempts to inform us about the exciting new world of metal, glass, bamboo, paper, and compostable straws. There’s a kind of implicit dismissiveness behind the idea that people who rely on plastic straws for hydration might not ever have considered alternatives. For my son, as with many others, plastic straws offer a remarkable combination of affordability, tensile strength, and flexibility. While some disabled people can use or even prefer harder reusable straws, metal, wood, or glass straws can be dangerous, uncomfortable, or ineffective for others. Compostable straws made of vegetable matter have a similar feel as standard plastic straws (and my son likes them), but they are vastly more expensive than plastic straws and raise concerns about food allergies.
There’s a real tension between consumer-based environmentalism, and the need to maintain and expand accessible options for disabled consumers, which often involve plastic. It’s good to raise awareness about waste, but I’ve been struck over the last year by how often conversations around straws quickly grow hostile. People are so eager to tell me about other kinds of straws, assuming we haven’t tried or are woefully uninformed. I wish these people might learn to trust that disabled people, as disability scholar Kim Sauder recently tweeted, generally know their needs and how to meet them-unless they ask for advice.
Let’s put our efforts where the money is, rather than shaming disabled consumers who just want an accessible drink of water.
Here’s the problem: I need every restaurant and gas station in America to have straws, preferably plastic and bendy. My son, a 10-year-old boy with Down syndrome, has never quite mastered that complex series of motions to drink consistently from the lip of the cup. What he can do, though, is curl his tongue around a straw and create appropriate suction to drink, which was quite the triumph when he first learned it. A whole world of easy hydration opened to us. My family is not alone. Straws are a wildly successful example of assistive technology for millions of people with diverse abilities, all of whom are best served by ubiquitous straws. If Grenier gets people to stop sucking, what about my son?
There’s a deep tension between environmental consumerism and accessible consumerism. Many disabled people have come to rely on prepackaged foods, single-serving products, plastic cups, and yes, straws. On the other hand, there are those in the environmental movement who use shame to push people toward better individual decisions for the environment. Last year, a Twitter user named Nathalie Gordon posted a picture of plastic wrapped pre-peeled oranges, taunting: “If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them.” It rapidly went viral and today has over 100,000 retweets and likes.
But for many disabled people, these pre-peeled oranges were wonderful. Kim Sauder, who is both disabled and a disability studies scholar, wrote a retort to Gordon, explaining, “As a person with limited hand dexterity, I look at this and see an easier way to eat healthy food.” Sauder, over email, told me that variations on the orange story keep re-appearing; recently, she heard folks yelling about plastic-wrapped peeled avocados. For her, straws and the #stopsucking campaign are part of the same pattern. As Sauder says, “The battles that environmentalists choose to wage are small and focused on products whose removal disproportionately affects disabled people.” Sauder understands why focusing on small things, especially those perceived as unnecessary, is easier than looking at the big picture. Still, she’d like us to focus on “the overall use of plastic,” even though that’s a tougher and more ambitious conversation. We need, Sauder says, to emphasize “systemic change rather than a perceived small sacrifice.”
People advocating for more environmentally friendly systems need to think about the ways that diverse people access the world. Before you eliminate a consumer system for ecological reasons, remember that many folks rely on convenient technologies, however environmentally unfriendly. That means persuasive messaging must avoid shaming those who need the technology. Because I want us to all stop sucking, but mostly, I want my son to have a drink.
Disabled people who shared their concerns, frustrations and criticisms of the straw ban on Twitter, many attempting to patiently explain why they are a necessity for some, have received hostility from many and support from few. The ‘just curious’ want to know why the alternatives aren’t good enough for disabled people and despite the abundance of articles, handy info graphics and tweets addressing that, seem incapable of finding the information out for themselves. Or perhaps it’s because those aren’t detailed enough and don’t explain exactly what is ‘wrong’ with the disabled person that prevents them from drinking without a straw.
If you write policy as if disabled people do not exist and as if discrimination against disabled people does not exist, then you almost certainly write discrimination into your policy.
Non-disabled people have questions and it is my job to answer them. This unasked for, unpaid position is one I was given when I became disabled. One moment they are curious about why some disabled people need straws, the next it will be something else.
If you spend time on social media, you may have noticed disabled people who don’t use straws understand why some disabled people do – without knowing the specific reasons.
Though the specifics of our situations differ in important ways and are affected by components of our identities beyond disability, the experience of being disabled in a society that excludes, devalues, demeans, objectifies, dehumanizes, degrades and pities disabled people, is something we all have some familiarity with. Our struggle against it is what unites us, not our particular medical diagnosis or accessibility needs.
Source: Curiosity: Vancouver’s Straw Ban – Another Barrier and Another Excuse For Non-Disabled People to Shame, Marginalize, Interrogate and Demonstrate They Don’t Care About Discrimination Against Disabled People | mssinenomineblog
A soggy paper straw increases the risk of choking. Most paper and silicone alternatives are not flexible, and this is an important feature for people with mobility related impairments. Metal, glass and bamboo straws present obvious dangers for people who have difficulty controlling their bite, as well as those with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s. Some disabled people use straws when drinking coffee or eating soup, yet most of the alternatives, including the leading biodegradable straw, are not suitable for drinks over 40°C. In addition, re-useable straws in public places are not always hygienic or easy to clean.
But making disabled people pay for something that’s available to everyone else for free is a type of tax. While it’s not necessarily an expensive tax, these types of things add up, and implementing a policy that makes the simple act of drinking prohibitive to certain groups sets a bad precedent.
“We need to make straws accessible to those who need them,” she says. “Don’t turn them into a medical item, which will negatively affect availability and lead to increased expense and stigma.”
What makes the entire debate over straws that much more confusing is the fact that disposable straws don’t actuallycontribute much to the abundance of plastic waste relative to other items in the ocean. So by proposing a ban on them, we’re asking disabled people to sacrifice a lot in order to gain just a little in the fight for environmental health. And by doing that, we’re demonstrating a frightening lack of empathy.
As a society, we are far too quick to write off the concerns of marginalized groups as insignificant or inconvenient.
“We’re really kind of vilifying people who need straws.” Other environmentalists aren’t sure that banning straws is gonna do much, and point out that banning straws is not an entirely rigorous approach to global systems change, considering that a widely cited estimate for the magnitude of the problem was, umm, created by a smart 9-year-old.
All this to say: The straw is officially part of the culture wars, and you might be thinking, “Gah, these contentious times we live in!” But the straw has always been dragged along by the currents of history, soaking up the era, shaping not its direction, but its texture.
The invention of American industrialism, the creation of urban life, changing gender relations, public-health reform, suburbia and its hamburger-loving teens, better living through plastics, and the financialization of the economy: The straw was there for all these things-rolled out of extrusion machines, dispensed, pushed through lids, bent, dropped into the abyss.
You can learn a lot about this country, and the dilemmas of contemporary capitalism, by taking a straw-eyed view.
“We’re really kind of vilifying people who need straws or forgetting about them completely — let’s be honest — in encouraging shaming people who are asking for them.”
“Where do I get that straw? Are straws then going to be something you buy at a medical supply store? And as soon as you do that they become more expensive and they become less accessible,” says Peters, on a fixed income of disability benefits she estimates at $1,100 per month.
“You’re just adding that cost to me.”
I already have a difficult time with environmentalism being the only global issue that some people fall on their sword for, especially given the many humanitarian crises around the world. (Do you think talking to me about plastic straws makes you look woke?) But truly addressing waste in the environment by disabled and marginalized people may require looking into the expansion and affordability of services that are made available to disabled people.
Environmentalism can be used as a shield. Kind of the “All Lives Matter” of advocacy but true activists know that it requires more than simply recycling plastics or banning straws, but racial, social, economic, and disability justice to make true strides to environmental stewardship. People for whom it is a struggle to live day to day aren’t going to invest emotional, financial or logistical resources to thinking about the next 100-200 years. So, sorry, you may have avoided taking sides on poverty, the minimum wage, healthcare or Black Lives Matter, but you’re going to have to care about people that are different from you. The environment requires it.
Mentioning the effect that banning straws might have on disabled people has become a dangerous proposition. On social media, the anti-straw brigade lectures about alternatives disabled people are already aware of or shames disabled people for needing to drink. “Quit harming the environment because you can’t take care of your own needs,” said one helpful commenter. “Sorry, the trouble cleaning and inconvenience still doesn’t trump the damage caused by plastics,” said another.
Picking a fight over straws may seem nonsensical, but the larger low-waste and zero-waste movements, which tend to be overwhelmingly white and nondisabled, frequently single out products that benefit the disability community, like straws or pre-cut fruits and veggies, as a wasteful use of natural resources. It’s a two-part logic: One, the planet’s resources are limited and growing scarcer, and two, the way to control that is by cutting back on the use of nonrenewables. This does little to explore which humansare using the majority of resources on Earth and where the real choke points of waste lie. And it feeds insidious attitudes about who should be “allowed” to use the resources that are available.
The “green lifestyle” can come at the expense of disabled people who are often already living low-impact lifestyles by default. (After all, disabled people can be twice as likely to live in poverty as nondisabled people.) When environmentalists promote cutting certain products out of our lives, things that are useful for disabled people are often first on the chopping block.
The idea that disabled people are taking up space and resources they don’t deserve feeds the vitriol aimed at those who voice concerns about inclusivity and zero/low-waste causes. It also contributes to rhetoric around physician-assisted suicide, abortion for disability, healthcare rationing, and other fraught topics.Embedded in all of them is the belief that disabled lives are not worth living, and accommodating disabled people is not worth the resources. The devaluation of disabled people deprives the environmental movement of allies, including those who agree that the planet is in a state of crisis and urgent action is needed. Disabled people, particularly disabled people of color, are in many ways canaries in the coal mine because environmental injustice hits their communities first.
Rather than being considered burdens, disabled people should be viewed as incredibly valuable resources for conversations about leading better lives. A lifetime of having to hack, adapt, and subvert a society that says you don’t belong provides a considerable array of skills for rethinking the way we use natural resources.
The straw ban really is visceral. It really hit me in the gut because this is about a daily activity: drinking. If that was threatened by, if your right to drink and eat was threatened, I mean, it’s very real. And I think what’s really-and it’s not exaggerated, right-I think it’s this is what’s really sad is that people think, “Oh, don’t worry about it.” I’ve had so many non-disabled people online tell me, “Don’t worry. You know, these bans, these exemptions, you’re gonna be fine, you know? There’s no way you would be denied a straw.” And I’m just like, if you just kind of understood what it’s like to be disabled and how every day, even with an apparent visible disability like mine, you are constantly scrutinized. And the microaggressions are just so real that people just assume that everything is going to be OK and that we should all-pun intended-suck it up for the greater good. And I think that’s what’s really missing is that the conversation has always been about if you’re not with us, you’re against us. And we’re saying this is just another erosion in our way to participate in public, in our ways to be part of society.
Some of my friends online have already shown me these little signs posted at restaurants that are really passive-aggressive about, “We’re not serving, we’re not providing any straws anymore because we care about the environment. Thanks anyway!” People are actually being really proud of not providing straws, and that, to me, is like another sign that you know- Let’s say, people saying, “Straws are bad,” and they say, “Oh, people with disabilities should bring their own straws.” So let’s say they bring their own straws and start using them? In this kinda climate, you can imagine the kind of like possible harassment or criticism they’ll get just for using a straw in a public space. If you look at Santa Barbara, where they have one of the most punitive bans with really steep fines and even jail time for establishments that provide plastic? I mean that’s really where you’re creating conditions that send a message to people with disabilities, older adults, all kinds of people that may need straws that your way of life is not welcome. Your way of life is not normative. And what do you do with that? You just basically are marginalizing us, shoving us away, and telling us that we don’t belong in the same place as you do.
And this is you know, 18 years after the American with Disabilities Act, after decades of disability rights activism that really fought against segregation and against the days where there were laws called Ugly Laws. So I’m not sure if you realize this, but in the old days, there were laws that disabled people and all kinds of people were not allowed in a public space because they affected people. Just their mere existence made people uncomfortable. And I really do see a connection between these straw bans and these kinds of historic laws that discriminate.