The Mighty Logo

Viral Tweet Thread Shows How Straw Bans Harm Disabled People

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

After a run-in with a waitress who refused to believe she was “disabled enough” to request a straw, a Twitter user’s thread about the incident went viral, sparking a conversation about how policies like straw bans can harm disabled people.

On Thursday, Twitter user @EhlersDanlosgrl shared her experience at a local restaurant. In the tweet thread, @EhlersDanlosgrl disclosed she asked for a straw because she lives with a joint condition that makes picking up a full glass of water difficult and painful.

“I was declined a straw at a restaurant this morning,” @EhlersDanlosgrl wrote. “The waitress had one in her apron. As she poured the water I said ‘excuse me miss can I have a straw?’ She said ‘we can’t just give them out’ and walked away.”

Many straw bans prohibit restaurants from automatically giving straws to customers to reduce plastic waste. However, the law also requires restaurant staff to provide straws when customers ask. For people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, plastic straws can be a necessary accommodation to make everyday activities, like eating or drinking, accessible.

@EhlersDanlosgrl asked again, telling the waitress she needed the straw because of her disability. “She met that with ‘you seemed fine when you walked in,’” @EhlersDanlosgrl tweeted.

After being refused a straw again from the waitress, @EhlersDanlosgrl asked to speak with the restaurant’s manager. @EhlersDanlosgrl explained her situation to the manager.

“Finally I ask for a manager and the waitress looks pissed as hell but goes to get them,” @EhlersDanlosgrl tweeted. “The manager heard me out, handed me a straw, then turned to the waitress and whispered ‘people like that aren’t worth it just give them the damn straw.’”

After the manager’s rude comment, @EhlersDanlosgrl said her father followed the manager and began yelling, which caused other patrons to stare. @EhlersDanlosgrl said she left the restaurant with her mother.

“We hadn’t even ordered yet so we just left. I’m still really upset,” she wrote. “STRAW BAN IS BULLSHIT. It’s just an excuse for ableism. A waitress should NOT get to ‘decide’ if I’m validly disabled or not.”

@EhlersDanlosgrl’s post went viral, with many others commenting about similar experiences of feeling like they have to “prove” they are disabled enough to use accessible services, whether it’s a parking spot or a plastic straw. This can be particularly frustrating if you have an invisible illness or disability, because you may not “look sick” and strangers might question why you can’t do the same things a healthy person might. @EhlersDanlosgrl, along with many others in the thread, shared their experiences with this common frustration.

One theme that also came up in the response to @EhlersDanlosgrl’s thread were suggestions for reusable straws. However, for many with disabilities, this is not a solution. Other straw materials, like metal or glass, may be too heavy or inflexible while others cause allergic reactions. Reusable straws can also be unaffordable or too difficult to clean. Twitter user @rollwthepunches created a handy chart to help illustrate why straw alternatives don’t work for everybody.

Straw alternative chart from @rollwthepunchesAbove chart via @rollwthepunches

Other helpful commenters in the thread suggested people with disabilities could buy their own plastic straws and carry them around. Advocates in @EhlersDanlosgrl’s tweet thread pointed out the burden for accessibility does not belong on the shoulders of people with disabilities. Not only is it difficult or impractical to remember to carry straws, but people with disabilities should not have to pay extra to make spaces accessible.

In the end, @EhlersDanlosgrl’s tweets about being refused a straw highlight a much bigger issue. It’s not about the straws, it’s about prioritizing accessibility without question for people with disabilities.

“You are all for the most part missing the entire point of the thread,” @EhlersDanlosgrl wrote. “I had to disclose medical information to a WAITRESS so that she could DECIDE if I was DISABLED ENOUGH. This isn’t about straws. If you think it’s just about straws, you have zero care for disabled lives.”

Header image via Jenjira Indon/Getty Images

Originally published: June 15, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home