People with disabilities are pushing back against plastic straw bans. Here’s why

People with disabilities are pushing back against plastic straw bans. Here’s why
Cities and companies are banning plastic straws across the US and abroad, but disability rights advocates are pushing back. (PATRICK PLEUL/AFP/Getty Images)

Recent bans on plastic straws by municipalities and businesses have unveiled an unintended consequence of the environmental initiative: hindering people with disabilities.

What’s the situation?

In an effort to reduce waste and the amount of plastic trash that ends up in the ocean, Alaska Airlines announced plans back in May to replace single-use straws with marine-friendly drink stirrers sometime this summer.

Earlier this month, the city of Seattle announced a ban on plastic straws and other disposable items that’s been in the works for a decade. On Monday, Starbucks said they’ll phase out the use of straws by 2020, and American Airlines followed suit the next day with the promise of replacing straws with stirrers beginning in November.

Other cities and businesses are rolling out similar plans.

So, what’s the pushback about?

But many people need to use straws — particularly plastic straws — due to health conditions and disabilities. Some folks are unable to lift a glass or cup, while others risk choking or getting fluid in their lungs without a straw that accommodates their needs.

Proponents of the bans point to alternatives like metal or paper straws as a solution, but each of those options have downsides — paper straws are flimsy and metal straws can get too hot or too cold.

Often, those who are disabled and need plastic straws carry some with them on their person when in public places. But in instances where they might forget to pack straws, they want options and access.

Some citizens and customers impacted by such a switch are taking offense not only over the bans themselves, but the way they were enacted. Groups and individual activists alike are voicing frustration after feeling left out of the decision-making processes.

A number of disability rights groups sent a letter to the Seattle City Council saying that “Requiring people with disabilities to treat a routine fast food trip as something that requires planning and supplies is an unplanned failure in equity.”