The REAL Problem With Straw Bans, According To 7 People Who Are Against Them


By now, most people know about the massive conversation surrounding plastic straw bans, which are designed to reduce waste caused by single-use plastics. Straw bans have been enacted by companies such as Starbucks, which plan to get rid of plastic straws in its stores worldwide by 2020. Even cities like Seattle have created ordinances and legislation surrounding the use of plastic straws. But, as straw bans have gained traction across the world, the disability community has expressed their concerns about these regulations' impact on disabled people.

As disability advocates like Alice Wong and s.e. smith have explained in numerous op-eds, folks within the disability community rely on plastic straws for a wide range of reasons — including mobility issues, sensory sensitivities, and more. While some people have suggested disabled folks make the switch to sustainable paper, metal, or bamboo alternatives, many straw alternatives non-disabled people are suggesting can pose a both a financial and health barrier to those with disabilities. Twitter user @sarahbreannep even designed a handy chart that explains why plastic straw alternatives are, more often than not, an infeasible option for some disabled folks.

Despite the fact that the hashtag #SuckItAbleism has been trending for several weeks online, with hundreds of disability advocates weighing in, some people in support of straw bans still don't understand why outright straw bans can harm people with disabilities. Bustle spoke with seven people about why they are against the move to ban plastic straws — and what can be done instead.



Imani Barbarin, a writer, disability rights advocate, and creator of Crutches And Spice, tells Bustle, "The straw ban is not only a poorly planned policy that neglected to take into account the needs of disabled people, but further places obstacles to the independence of an over-burdened community. Straws are quite literally one of the least impactful pollutants, but are life-saving to disabled people. This policy, and its rampant support, shows just how little value society places [on] our lives."



"Ultimately, this subject is much bigger than the straw ban — it’s about representation. It’s important that those of us within the disability community, and all marginalized groups, have a seat at the table, especially when it comes to life impacting legislative matters," explains Jane Hartman Adamé, the CEO and founder of Keela Cup.

"It’s difficult, if not impossible, to predict and protect the needs of others when they aren’t included in the conversation to begin with," she says, adding that, "From legislation to innovation, those of us in the disability community have a lot to contribute; it’s up to the community at large to welcome and support us in these spaces."



"It seems like such a simple question: Why do disabled people need straws? Can't you just use reusable straws? But when it's a question asked multiple times a day for months on end, it grates and blurs into all the other questions we're asked every day like, 'What's wrong with you?' or 'Do you really need that parking space?' explains Liz Moore, a disability rights advocate who came up with the Straw Ban Bingo Card. "I think this is why the ableism of the straw ban is not readily apparent to some people: Because they don't notice everyday ableism, or that the straw ban is part of a system of dismissing disabled needs as 'special."



Joei, a paraeducator in early education, tells Bustle she is against straw bans because, "Many people, for a variety of reasons, need straws to eat or drink. It can be the difference between sitting down to have a normal drink at a restaurant, or dehydration and aspiration."



"I think the straw ban is a distraction from the reality of massive plastic pollution from big corporations, fishing farms, shipping materials, etc. It puts the onus on the consumer to help the environment, when effective change will only happen when it starts with the producers," says Brinley, a multimedia artist. "If people need straws, they absolutely should be able to access them, and not have any guilt associated with that need."


Pumpkin Spice Queer

"People who have never needed to think about their access to straws keep suggesting alternatives, as though disabled people never considered them. The reality is we've been working at this, and the issues which each of those alternatives is solved by simply continuing to have plastic straws," says Twitter user @queer_spice, a poverty researcher and disability rights advocate, who asked to be identified only by her Twitter handle due to online harassment she's received. "My disability puts me at a high risk for dehydration, I have struggles with swallowing because of the muscles in my throat, and sometimes I shake so hard that holding anything is difficult. Plastic straws help with all of that, and my ability to exist in public."

She adds that, "For advocating for plastic straws, I have been told that I should just move, that I'm lying about being disabled, that 'disabled people shouldn't be allowed in public,' that we should be grateful we're allowed in public at all, and even that I am an 'earth killer' (my work is in environmental health)."



Gabrielle Peters, a disabled writer, says, "I think for disabled people like myself the straw ban is pretty straight forward: We need straws — they are necessary, not frivolous, and banning them will add yet another significant barrier to our lives. It’s already added to stigma and isolation."

"We are portrayed as lazy burdens and wasteful opponents of environmentalism. The reality is disabled people are heavily invested in environmental issues," she explains. "We are also more likely to be poor, and less likely to have money for anything beyond basic necessities — if that. It should concern everyone how easily an ad campaign became legislation, despite evidence that demonstrates it isn’t helpful to oceans and wildlife, and is harmful to humans."


The disability community has been tirelessly educating people on why plastic straws are a tool of accessibility. Non-disabled people just need to listen.