Dear Straw Ban Defenders, I Know You Don’t Understand How Accessibility Works But Do You Understand How Capitalism Works?

I can’t believe I am writing – still and more – about the straw ban.

I’ve said a lot already.

Examples – Here








And so on – seriously there is so much more just by me – much more not by me. 

So after all that (and more) why I am writing MORE about the straw ban?

Well, first of all the ban hasn’t been revoked even in my city with its new city council promising a new style of governance. 

But in particular this post is about a response I keep seeing versions of from people defending the straw ban.

The response goes something like this: ‘Disabled people who need plastic bendy straws will still be able to use them even if we enact bans. We will make exceptions, you will be fine.’

The replies I’ve seen to that attempt to deflect the legitimate concerns of disabled people about the straw ban have focused on explaining why that’s not really how accessibility works. When we stigmatize and medicalize the need for a straw and require a disabled person to ask for that special item that is otherwise not available it opens the disabled person up to interrogation and judgment and ultimately denial.  Concerns about this may sound hyperbolic but they are anything but. Instead they are based on decades of the lived experience of disabled people. The fact that data has not been properly collected does not make that data any less real or significant. People demand explanations when we need things different from what they do or when we need things different from what they – usually based on zero experience or knowledge – think we should. I know this sounds incredible and maybe even difficult to believe but since this is not the point of this post, I am just going to leave it to you to take the time to fact check this point yourself. The evidence is out there.

But the point of this particular post is not accessibility, it is capitalism. Supply and demand. Profit. Mass production. The things that form the economic basis for the society we live in and how items we use and require are produced and distributed.

I think we can all agree that the current manufacturers and marketers of plastic bendy straws don’t produce these items because they felt a calling to do so. They are businesses and they operate for profit not out of the goodness of their hearts.

I know very little about business and much less about the business of plastic straws but I am going to assume that the size of their potential market plays some role in it as it does in most businesses. Plastic bendy straws are not artisanal, niche, haute couture or the result of a startup that lives in a hive.

They are factories, warehouses, forklifts, skids and regional sales divisions not influencers, Instagram and ‘inventing’ things that already exist.

So what happens when all but a minority of people who require them for accessibility stop using plastic bendy straws? Will restaurants and cafes still carry them? U.S. disabled citizens may or may not be able to make a case using their ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) for their presence but in other places like Canada where I live disabled people have no such have no such protections or recourse if they disappear.

Availability has already been reportedly diminished and my city’s ban on plastic straws isn’t supposed to come into full effect until June 1, 2019.

So that’s step one. What happens when the restaurants and stores stop ordering them? We are predicting plastic straw manufacturers vow to stick with their product even as they project loss? Because kindness?

At some point is it not reasonable to assume there will be conversations about whether to continue to produce straws or focus on whatever else they can or do manufacture? And if  we’re fortunate enough that some companies decide to continue to manufacture and distribute plastic bendy straws as a medical supply item what do you think will happen to the cost and their availability? Particularly to disabled people outside of hospital? (You may not have heard but most of us don’t live in institutions and most who still do are fighting to get out and 172 states including Canada, signed a UN Convention giving disabled people the right to live in the community – we’re still working on making sure they live up to that commitment but access to necessary supplies within the community is an essential implied component of that commitment.) 

And especially it needs to be asked, how will those things impact disabled people living in poverty and/or who have insecure housing? 

The point of all this is not to resist change, it’s to argue that we bring about change responsibly and the first piece of that is you don’t ban something out of existence until you can ensure that you have found an alternative that meets the needs of those for whom that thing you want to eliminate is necessary.

This entire straw ban is based on the idea that straws are an one hundred percent wasteful, unnecessary convenience item that if removed from market would not impact anyone’s human rights. It turns out that is not true. 


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