It’s Not About the Fucking Straws Anymore

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I would put a “this is the last straw” pun here to start off the post with some levity, but honestly I’m too cranky so you get Serious Post from start to finish. You’ve probably heard that a number of cities are proposing banning plastic straws at a variety of levels, whether just in restaurants, or from being sold at all. What you may not have heard unless you’re active in the disability community is that many disabled folks are asking that this not be a straight out ban, as straws are accessibility devices for people with limited mobility or motor control. There are many people out there who cannot drink without a straw, and plastic straws are particularly well suited to the needs of disabled people as they hold up for a long time (many disabled people take longer to drink, and paper straws melt), they are the right size (larger metal straws can be a choking hazard), they are flexible, and they don’t require intensive washing like reusable straws (which many people with limited motor skills or mobility can’t do).

So that’s a lot that just happened in a paragraph. It’s not uncommon that when one group tries to do something good, someone else mentions that there’s an intersectional effect and we could approach it differently.

But holy moly have people been total assbutts about this. Over and over I see abled people saying “oh, this is easy, just use a biodegradable straw/metal straw/reusable straw” despite the fact that I have literally seen dozens of articles in the last two days without even looking about why those alternatives aren’t feasible.

What really chaps my ass about it though is that when presented with the facts, I have seen multiple people respond with “well it’s still just not worth the environment.” As if it’s fine to just ignore accessibility if you feel like it. As if disabled people can be disposed of if there’s something MORE important. As if the ONLY thing between us and complete global warming meltdown is the straws and so it is vitally important that disabled people give them up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for decreasing our use of plastic straws for those of us who can. But at this point it’s so obvious that it’s not about the fucking straws anymore. It’s about the fact that able bodied people would rather focus on their own feel good emotions that they can “do something good” than listen to the basic accessibility needs of disabled people. I do mean very basic: we’re talking about the right to take a drink with some level of independence. We’re talking about the ability to go buy food in the community and exist publicly.

The more I push on it, the more it becomes clear to me that able bodied people are totally willing to just let disabled people live subpar lives, as if that’s the price we should have to pay for daring to be disabled, as if disabled people are the ones who have to make the necessary sacrifice to protect the plane. Someone’s gotta give things up, so why shouldn’t it be your right to have a drink with some level of independence?

But it’s super obvious that plastic straws ain’t gonna save the environment. There are thousands of other things that people could be advocating for if we can’t perfectly implement a straw ban, and in fact there are dozens of things that impact the environment much more significantly (plastic cups, driving, meat consumption just to name a few). So why is it that when disabled people say “hey, that’s an awesome thing for a lot of people to do but not one that we can do” it suddenly becomes the end all be all of environmentalism? Could it be…ableism?

To top it all off, the whole idea of the straw ban is shoving responsibility to individuals whose impact on the environment is significantly smaller than industry. While it’s great to take personal responsibility when we can, 71% of global emissions come from a mere 100 companies. Maybe those folks could be taking a little bit more responsibility. Maybe huge industries are in a better position to make a sacrifice than the disabled community. Maybe, just maybe, we’re way more willing to throw disabled people under the bus because as a whole, society thinks it’s ok for disabled people to live lives that aren’t independent, that don’t give them access to their communities, and that are merely surviving(I’ve seen this in a couple of places when people asked “how did disabled people survive before plastic straws then” and it chaps my ass because maybe we would like to do more than survive for once). This CANNOT ever be an acceptable solution to anything. Full stop.

I fully recognize that many people who are arguing for straw bans don’t consciously think “well fuck disabled people”. But there seems to be an underlying assumption that it’s ok for disabled people to live worse lives than everyone else that is built into many of the arguments I see, especially when I see language like “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” or “the answer just isn’t more plastic”, as if either of those addresses the fact that disabled people NEED these straws for basic accessibility. Yes, there is a need for improving our relationship with the environment, but there are so many other ways we could work on it, why do we have to give up these very basic needs? Nothing should outweigh a person’s right to have a damn drink.

If your argument is “yeah, this is super inaccessible I guess, but too bad nothing we can do,” it’s a bad argument.

It isn’t about straws anymore. It’s about the fact that disabled folks are asked to carry this burden for society in a disproportionate way, and people are simply ok with that. Give us equal dignity and equal consideration please. It’s literally all we’re asking, and it’s definitely possible to advocate for environmentalism in ways that don’t hurt us.