Disability Thought Of The Week: The Straw Thing

Disability Thought Of The Week on a yellow legal pad background

I have a confession. When I first heard about the movement to ban plastic straws, and the anger of disabled people about it, I thought the whole thing was overblown. Although I have disabilities, I have only once or twice in my life needed to use a straw to get a drink. And that lack of immediate experience I think contributed to my initial belief that while it was a valid conflict and straws shouldn’t be so quickly and thoroughly banned, there was far too much anger about it on both sides.. In a way, I think there still is, because the thing should be easily resolved.

- The straw ban people should probably shift into a public persuasion campaign encouraging people who don’t need straws to request no straws when they order drinks at bars and restaurants.

- The disability community should probably accept something like that as a win, and maybe stop claiming, as a few of us have, that the straw ban is happening because non-disabled people hate disabled people.

Note: My own interpretation is that straw bans are happening because of the usual obliviousness and neglect of disabled people and disability concerns that occurs when non-disabled people get all excited about a brilliant plan ... whether it's a social justice movement, a conference, or a building. Indifference like this may seem to activists like a weaker, less motivating explanation than hatred, but not to me. Indifference towards disabled people is terrifying, and enormously harmful.

If we can secure the continued existence and availability of plastic straws for all who need them, then maybe we can also stop getting worked up over these small-bore personal environmental initiatives and organize instead around some serious push-back on the Trump Administration’s environmental policies.

Meanwhile, the disability community can use this as an example of why movements and initiatives that seem to have nothing to do with disability should always consider the possible disability angles on what they are doing, and get serious about consulting the disability community. That means more than just asking that one disabled guy you happen to know. It means reaching out to several different disability organizations that have the capacity to provide both personal and technical feedback. It also means that those organizations need to be ready to provide that kind of feedback on a moment’s notice, and mobilize in a reasonable but also forceful way to deal with things like the straw ban movement.

That would be great. And some of it might actually be how it turns out in this case, since it seems to me like the disability community is actually being heard on this, or at least having a voice, much faster and in more mainstream venues than I would have guessed just a few weeks ago. The problem is now being covered in “the press,” and not dismissively or as a curiosity.

The problem is that there’s almost nobody out there that I can see, other than a few disability bloggers, freelance writers, and tweeters, offering specific demands or compromise formulas to the environmental movement, municipalities, and companies like Starbucks. The only organized campaign I’m aware of is by Disabled In Action in New York City and the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, which were planning to do a rally and press conference at a Starbucks store in the city today, but have at this point postponed because they are having possibly productive dialog with Starbucks management. I hope this bears some fruit.

For myself, I’m going to go to my local Starbucks this afternoon and talk to the manager there about the straw ban, and ask him to pass along to upper management the accessibility problem with banning plastic straws. I invite all my fellow “basic” disabled Starbucks goers to do the same.