Why I Need Disposable Straws as a Person With Disabilities

Have you ever picked up a cup or a glass full of liquid and have your wrist go into subluxation or dislocation? No? I have.

Have you ever put something in your mouth only for it not to feel right and make you go into full sensory meltdown? No? I have.

My issues with consuming liquids are not the only ones out there, but they do put me amongst the fight to keep single use plastic straws on the market. And to be honest, I’m getting extremely tired of people shaming those of us who are fighting for our rights to be able to continue to use the one drinking aid that makes life simpler for us.

Let me say this before I go any further. I am the person who recycles. I am the the person who despite chronic pain conditions will separate their recyclables and travel in their wheelchair to the nearest recycling bins (which are uphill and 10 minutes walk away for an able-bodied person) in order to recycle. It’s not that I don’t care about the environment, and I am one of those who wants to reduce the overall use of single use plastics in the world. But until we find a better option than what is currently available then we need to keep the single use plastic ones affordable and at hand. And many plastic straws are recyclable, but people just don’t do it.

Until that time comes, can we not just agree to have them available behind the counter upon request for those with disabilities? The alternatives I have tried do not work for me. Friends with epilepsy have issues with a lot of the alternatives and their safety when it comes to seizures, as do friends with cerebral palsy when it comes to issues with increased saliva production and the way in which paper straws dissolve before they’ve finished their drinks. Not to mention that metal straws are impractical for hot drinks and soup, which many disabled people use them for.

I carry a reusable sports bottle filled with water when I’m out and about because the lid is an easy way to drink and my EDS makes it hard to guarantee other types of bottles won’t end up with water in my lap. But if I want a drink with friends at a pub or whatever I am going to need that single use straw because that heavy glass could sublux my wrist. I have sensory processing disorder as well and tend to chew on my straws. Single use plastic straws reduce the risk of damage to my mouth and aren’t uncomfortable in it. Reusable alternatives for someone with fine motor issues are difficult to keep clean too, and for those with low immune systems (like myself) could mean easy infection. Even my able-bodied sister has had problems with the alternatives we’ve tried cutting up her mouth.

The idea of offering straws on prescription and as a piece of medical equipment creates an issue in itself. Not everyone can afford insurance, and it’s also looking at it from a specifically American perspective. The straw issue also affects those of us in other countries. When items become prescription/medical equipment they go up in price exponentially (this happens globally). A box of 100 single use straws in the U.K. currently costs me £2 in the supermarket. That 100 will last my particular needs about three months. If I was to need them on prescription, I would get them free until the government decided they were being charged too much by manufacturers and stopped me being able to get them on prescription. By that point I would likely have to pay £20 for a box less than a third of the size of the £2 one. Under my budget, that is too much.

I’ve seen it happen with things like paracetamol. I have a friend who is on disability benefits, who because of the government’s decision to cut paracetamol from NHS prescriptions now goes without basic pain relief when needed. A single packet of paracetamol can cost roughly 25p in a supermarket. But that same 25p can be spent on a can of baked beans or a packet of pasta. She’d rather eat than have the pain relief. There are parents trying to feed their children in the same boat. Now imagine what it would do for someone to lose their access to straws they need to drink from.

Until we come up with a viable alternative that covers all the bases, surely it makes sense to keep plastic straws readily available and to stop demonizing those of us who need them. Teach people to recycle, not to criticize the disabled people who need them.

Getty image by Fortton.

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