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How Banning Plastic Straws Affects Disabled People

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Plastic straws are essential for me. I use plastic straws as I have a lot of weakness in my wrists due to hypermobility and palsies (paralysis in my wrists caused by problems with my nerves brought on by my functional neurological disorder) so lifting cups and tipping a cup to drink can be tricky. I use lidded cups because of my tremor and involuntary movements, and just being a clumsy person, plus lidded cups are lighter weight and easier for me to hold. I use stretchy lids that go over cups to make them un-spillable, and they require a straw.

I’ve found a lot of straw alternatives unsuitable — they fall apart, I injure myself on them, I’m allergic to them, they can’t be used in hot drinks, they’re not 100 percent hygienic, they cut off when bent or can’t be bent etc.

I have had a lot of backlash at times when I’ve brought up the subject of plastic straws online. People say, “Well I’m disabled and I don’t need straws” or “get silicone straws” or “carry some straws around with you.” Having to justify myself gets rather tiresome.

Due to my disabilities, I have to lay flat a lot of the time. I also need to drink more fluids than most people, so laying flat and drinking means the only suitable straw for me is a bendy plastic straw that will stay in position.

The plastic straw ban has had a huge effect on me. First off, drinking out. What I really don’t get is that I’m given a plastic lid on my cup, a plastic fork for my fruit which is in a plastic tub, yet I’m given a paper straw for my coffee. Where is the sense in that? Paper straws will undoubtedly fall apart in my drink, hot or cold. I will often have an allergic reaction to the dye in the straw, or it’s not bendable, making it hard to drink with when reclined.

One place gave me a recycled biodegradable plastic straw, but it epically melted in my coffee and as it was made of a harder plastic, every time I had an involuntary movement I jabbed the roof of my mouth. Ouch! It also wasn’t bendable, so like the paper straw, it was hard to drink when reclined.

I’m all for looking after the planet. In our house, we recycle everything the local council says we can recycle and we complain about what could be recycled but isn’t. At home, our plastic straws are used and washed. We use them until they die, and to be environmentally friendly we cut them up before throwing them out so they don’t cause harm to wildlife.

Disabled people are getting a lot of backlash about their need for bendy plastic straws, and this usually comes from non-disabled people who don’t understand our need for them and how they are essential to be able to simply drink.

Plans to make bendy plastic straws available at places like pharmacies just make it harder for disabled people and make us feel bad for using plastic straws. Instead, why not educate people and give them a choice? In supermarkets, have paper straws next to the bendy plastic straws, and in cafés, have a handful of plastic straws and make sure staff know not to ask anyone to justify why they need a plastic straw over a paper straw. And this brings me onto another thought, under the U.K. Disability Discrimination Act and Equality Act, reasonable adjustments must be made for disabled people. Providing plastic straws to disabled people should be classed as a reasonable adjustment by law!

Recently in the news, people have been complaining that McDonald’s paper straws ruin their milkshakes. They should spare a thought for disabled people who have to put up with paper straws ruining every drink!

I totally understand the need to be more eco-friendly, but it should have been more thought out — like when drinks are served in plastic cups or with plastic lids but the cafe doesn’t have a recycling bin. And those McDonald’s “eco-friendly” paper straws are not actually recyclable.

Please stop forgetting about disabled people for whom plastic straws are a necessity and not a choice.

This story originally appeared on A Girl Called Naomi.

Getty image by Vadim Dorofeev.

Originally published: April 21, 2020
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