News and Commentary

Plastic Straw Bans Hurt Those With Disabilities, Advocates Say

Another reason to hate the plastic straw bans: Many types of disabilities require those afflicted to use straws in order to consume food and drinks.

Now, many with disabilities are speaking out against the bans, saying it is harming them. Karen Hitselberger, a disabled woman and writer, wrote at The Washington Post that she can’t drink her tea without a plastic straw, or else she risks choking or potentially burning herself.

“While reusable straws and redesigned cups may be a great solution for most people, they are not an option for many people with disabilities,” Hitselberger wrote. “For example, paper straws, which are most often cited as the best alternative, are not temperature safe, often dissolve in water and can become a choking hazard. As for lids designed to be used without a straw, they require the cup to be lifted by the user, which many people cannot do.”

Penny Pepper has been disabled since she was 14 years-old, and though she is environmentally conscious (she once worked for Greenpeace), she writes at The Guardian that she can’t afford the “luxury” of giving up plastic straws.

“Take the plastic straw debate, and the warning that baby wipes cause fatbergs. Along with many disabled people, I need both,” Pepper wrote. “Not as a lifestyle choice. Not as a luxury. I need straws that bend, ones that can handle all drinks, including medication, and all temperatures. I need straws that aren’t too fat, that won’t cause me to choke or be difficult for me to keep in my mouth.”

Pepper said she’s tried many alternatives, but plastic is the only material that works for her needs.

“Paper straws generally don’t do well in hot liquids and I’ve yet to find decent flexible ones. This is important to get the angle right for safe drinking, when you can’t hold a cup or even if another person holds it for you,” she wrote. “Metal ones are often fat, better used for smoothies and not good if you have a biting issue. I tried silicone straws, which were too soft and fat to be reliably useful.”

Axios reports that straw-ban proposals such as the one approved in San Francisco, California and the one proposed in Seattle, Washington, do “not explicitly address disability access,” but does mention that the law can be ignored if it would “interfere with accommodating for any person’s medical needs.”

If restaurants and other businesses don’t even keep the straws on hand, however, that provision won’t help the disabled, and will keep them from patronizing some of their favorite establishments.

Maybe getting hysterical over a 9-year-old’s phone survey wasn’t the smartest move for these liberal cities.