Straws: it really means accessibility and respect

This is a long post, but I really need you to read it. It’s about straws, again. Yes, straws. But it’s not about plastic versus paper, or the environmental impact, or which multi-national conglomerate is changing their straws, or which city is banning them. It’s about two fundamental things that we all need in our lives, and disabled people have to demand, repeatedly: accessibility and respect.

When most people think about accessibility, they think about ramps. Without a ramp, people in wheelchairs can’t get in to a certain building. Maybe, they think about services being available in Braille, or ASL interpreters at public events. Having access to a plastic straw is exactly the same. On the pleasant end of the accessibility scale, it means knowing that you can meet someone while you are grocery shopping and deciding to go for a coffee, and not having to carry a bag of straws with you just in case. On the dangerous end of the scale, it means knowing that you won’t become dehydrated if you forget to take straws with you because there’s no way for you to drink while you are out. A couple of months ago, it wasn’t even a thought. The accessibility was there – plastic straws were everywhere. Already, they’re disappearing, often without any thought of the consequences to the people who need them.

Respect is lacking in the lives of disabled people. I’m sure many of you have heard about the “does she take milk in her tea” syndrome, where the person accompanying the disabled person is asked questions about what they need, rather than asking the disabled person themselves. We deal with it constantly, from the interpersonal level to the systemic level, from friends and from governments. However, we deserve respect because we are the experts. We have what’s known as the “lived experience” – we are experts in our own lives. We research. We problem solve. We network with each other. When we say something doesn’t work for us, we know that something doesn’t work for us, because we have tried it and failed, and moved on to find the better solution.

In the various networks of disabled people I’m in, I’m hearing the same themes. Disabled people who use straws are frustrated. They’re tired of having to explain themselves, to explain why one type of straw doesn’t work over another. They even come up with nifty charts that explain it all, like the one below. Hell, I’m frustrated and tired of explaining it over and again. We don’t need to be told that we all have to do our bit to save the environment – our accessibility need to drink comes first, and our impact on the environment is negligible. (There I go again – explaining.) We don’t need to be told have you heard about this type or that type, because we have and we know what works. And we don’t need to be told that we have to take our own with us. We carry a lot of kit with us – what next? Plate, knife and fork? Yesterday I read a post that someone said that they were tired of listening to ablesplaining. What a wonderful term. You’ve heard of mansplaining? Where men explain things to women, particularly things they have no knowledge of like period pains and pregnancy? Well, ablesplaining is where non-disabled people, able people, explain things like straws to disabled people. It really signals the frustration when we have our own term for it.

What we need is non-straw users to be our allies. An ally is someone who works with us, to support us, to listen to us and to act how we ask them to in our support. Since I became disabled, lots of people have said that they wish they could do something to help me. Well, here it is.

– Promote our position among other people. When you hear people talking about the straw ban, explain the position of people who need plastic straws.

– Respect our position. Don’t ablesplain. Don’t suggest that because Bill’s second cousin’s cat had no problem using a metal straw and keeping it clean, we all should.

– Read articles by disabled people. There are opinion pieces in every major news outlet on this that I’ve seen, in Canada, the US and the UK. I can provide you with many links.

– Share posts like this one, written by disabled people who use straws. When you do make sure it’s accessible. Underneath this article you will see the table explained in words. Why? Blind people often use screen readers, but those screen readers don’t read tables or photos or diagrams.

I have gone from being a #StrawWhisperer to a #StrawWarrior. Please support my position by sharing this post.

[image description: Infographic, first block of text reads “Many disabled people need plastic straws to drink, eat, take medications, etc. Here’s how current alternative, reusable options are a harm to us.”

Text from table reads “Metal: injury risk, not positionable, costly for consumer, not high-temp safe. Bamboo: injury risk, not positionable, costly for consumer. Glass: injury risk, not positionable, costly for consumer, not high-temp safe. Silicone: not positionable, costly for consumer. Acrylic: injury risk, not positionable, costly for consumer, not high-temp safe. Paper: choking hazard, not positionable, not high-temp safe. Pasta: choking hazard, injury risk, not positionable, not high-temp safe. Single-use: (no risk listed).”

Second block of text reads “Pressure to create bio-degradable straw options that are safe for the environment and for all disabled people should fall upon manufacturer, not marginalized disabled consumers. Once we accept the necessity of plastic straws, we can work together on other environmental initiatives that are effective, inclusive and accessible.”]

Table describing various straws and the issues with them. Full description in the blog text