You just finished a long day at work and are pretty exhausted. You’re looking forward to just getting home and resting but you decide to stop for coffee on your walk home. You know that all the local coffee shops have drive thru service only but you figure it shouldn’t be an issue, you can just walk through the drive thru after all. You stand there in line for 10 minutes waiting to order that beloved hot cup of Joe. You get to the speaker where you place your order and the move up to the window to pick it up. The window opens and the employee has an unimpressed look on their face. You’re confused but not for long. They quickly disclose that they can’t sell you a cup of coffee. Why? Because you didn’t drive through the drive thru.
You feel a rush of many emotions. Firstly, you feel frustration. You waited in line like everyone else who was able to get a coffee but it was just a waste of time. You also feel a pretty embarrassed. It was rush hour and there was tons of people in the line up who clearly saw you get rejected. You mind quickly goes to the thoughts these people are probably thinking. You’re feeling judged because you got refused service because you didn’t have a car. You also feel pretty discriminated against. The reason you don’t have a car is because you can’t afford one but the people watching don’t know that. All they know is that you got turned away at the service counter for walking instead of driving. They don’t know how ashamed you feel that you need to walk several kilometers to work everyday while your next door neighbor shows up in the parking lot with their sports car.
These feeling of being judged, of feeling ashamed, of feeling targeted and isolated, are feelings that many people with disabilities face every single day. We live in a world that isn’t built for us and we’re constantly trying to figure out how to get around accessibility issues and, sometimes, we flat out can’t go somewhere or purchase something or participate in an activity as a direct result of our disability.
When the issue of banning single-use plastic straws in certain cities became a mainstream topic, it was revered by many; seen by most as a positive change, a step in the right direction. However, that point of view comes from a place of privilege that lacks the consideration of all involved. Having privilege isn’t something to feel bad about but keep in mind it largely affects your view on point of view; your view of the world is created by your experiences. Like in my case, I knew so little about disability and accessibility issues until I became disabled myself and lived these issues. But if you approach the concept of banning straws from an intersectional point of view, it becomes quite clear that it is not a clear cut. Banning straws is actually quite problematic for the disabled community in particular, not to mention other minorities that may be affected that I’m not cognizant of.
For many with disabilities, especially those who have muscular or neurological conditions, using a straw is the only way they can drink. A straw allows people who can’t pick up a cup or bottle to drink. I think we can all agree that hydration is a right that everybody deserves. When you’re out and about, you can’t or don’t always have a drink in a cup that’s suitable for you to use with you. What are these people supposed to do on a hot summer day when they’re drier than the Sahara desert and can’t physically drink anything? Leave whatever you’re doing to go home and get a straw? That would be majorly inconvenient. Without straws, the world grows even more inaccessible.
At this point, if you’re still reading, you’re probably thinking, why can’t people with disabilities just use a paper or glass or metal straw? Yes, you can buy nice ones that are compact and transportable! But no, not everyone can use a non-plastic straw. Plastic is flexible, allowing people with limitations to easily bend it and adjust it to the angle or position they need it in in order to drink. Plastic is also soft unlike glass and metal. If you accidentally hit a glass or metal straw on a tooth, you could break it. However, Some people with disabilities don’t have the muscle control or strength to use a straw made of hard material without injuring themselves. These plastic straws also let people drink any drink, warm or cold, which not all straws allow.
All in all, like many issues, this one doesn’t have a simple or straightforward answer. Maybe restaurants should start using straws made of alternative materials and have plastic ones on hand for people who request them. Maybe, if they don’t provide straws, they need to make it clear in the menu or elsewhere that one can be provided. Maybe they should start asking, when you place an order, whether you’d like a straw or not for the drink. I’m not sure, I don’t have the answer for everything. However, I do know that based on the experiences of many people with disabilities, a complete ban on plastic straws can be detrimental to their independence and ability to access the world. In my opinion, this law shouldn’t be passed without measures being put in place to safeguard the access of people with disabilities.
This discussion leads us to an issue even bigger than straws; the fact that every single one of use lives a completely unique human experience. We all different from our genetic makeup to the way we experience the world and there is numerous factors that affect the way we experience it such as age, race, gender, ability, religion, sexuality, etc. Until people in power recognize the impact of intersectionality, until we look at society not as one generalized whole based of our own experiences but rather as endless subgroups and classes that infinitely overlap with each other, we can’t rectify the inequalities in the world. We should be moving forward to a world that is accessible to everyone, evening out the playing field, not the other way around. Why? Because it’s 2018. *drops mic*