Saturday, July 14, 2018

Eco-friendly v. Ability-friendly: Plastic Straws and Finding a Mutual Solution

It has become trendy to refuse the use of plastic straws. This trend to be more eco-friendly has been driven to the extent that places like Seattle, Miami Beach, and Vancouver have banned plastic straws from being handed out at any place that serves food and drink. Businesses have also jumped on the bandwagon and have begun the process of eliminating plastic straws from their stores across the world. This sounds all nice and dandy -- "a step in the right direction" even -- but what if it was the cup?

Banning plastic straws is not an inconvenience to the general population. It is easy to go throughout the day without a straw for anyone who can physically handle a drink without one. People can still go order whatever drink they wish just without a straw. They can even get it in a plastic cup with a plastic lid because those can be recycled. However, what if everyone had to bring their own cup or they could not have the drink? This would make a bigger positive impact on the environment but places are not going to do this as this is bad business sense. Taking away these items to reduce plastic would be a huge inconvenience to many. So just plastic straws have been targeted. Never the less, this is exactly what places have done to the disability community as it is easy to take away a necessary technology for people with disabilities. Marginalizing a minority in order to promote being eco-friendly is good business sense; follow the trend, forget about the disabled.


Many people with disabilities cannot drink without a plastic straw but when this is said, instead of listening, there are three main solutions that keep being offered. People who need a plastic straw to drink are being told to just bring their own or to use a type of straw that does not work for them. Despite what people may think and say, many people with disabilities do need a plastic straw to drink. There are so many reasons to why this is the case and for anyone who cannot understand the reasoning behind this claim please take the time to become educated on this subject.


The issue of places not providing plastic straws is more than a convenience issue for people with disabilities; it is an access issue. If an entity is going to provide a service to one customer, the law states they should provide that service to all customers. For anyone who needs a plastic straw to drink and is required to bring there own to receive the same services provided to everyone else (i.e. consume the drink they purchased), this is a disability tax. If a business is going to provide a service to one customer, they need to provide that same service to all customers and if that includes providing plastic straws, city councils and businesses need to take that into consideration.


As a person who uses a wheelchair for mobility, should I just carry around my own ramp? Maybe I should carry around multiple length ramps so they fit on all staircases? Therefore, businesses no longer need to install ramps. What if I cannot carry my own ramp; should I just not be provided with access to a public service? What if I am human and forget my straw; do I just not drink that day? I guess I could just take the time and find a store to buy more. If the store is still selling them.


Another concern with purchasing plastic straws is if businesses are no longer purchasing straws in large quantities, the demand will decrease, causing the number manufactured to decrease as well; economic patterns suggest that prices of plastic straws will then rise, causing a burdensome impact on people who need them.


This leads to the next suggestion that is continuously given to people who say they need plastic straws: why not just invest in a more sustainable straw? There are many different types of straws that are way cheaper than plastic straws in the long run; there are hard reusable plastic straws, bamboo straws, glass straws, metal straws, silicone straws, and metal straws with a silicon tip. Straws made from hard plastic, bamboo, glass, and metal are all not pliable, difficult to position, and hold in one's mouth. Glass can also break when dropped or bitten; many people with disabilities who need a straw to drink do so because they have dexterity issues and/or do not have control of their bite which can lead to things often being dropped or involuntarily bitten when in the mouth. Metal straws can also become extremely hot in a hot drink and burn one's mouth. Both glass and metal straws can be a safety hazard to many. A silicone straw is softer, but it is not flexible enough for someone with limited motor control and when bent it does not keep its shape (it bounces back to its original stance). A metal straw with a silicon tip seems like a better option as metal will hold its bent shape and silicon is not sharp nor will it burn the user as hot liquid passes through itHowever, even if a person with a disability can physically use a reusable straw, it is very unlikely that they will be able to clean that straw on their own (possibly for the same reason they are using the straw in the first place). 


Having people with disabilities use reusable straws will require someone else to wash that reusable straw; this reduces the independence of the disabled person. Many people with disabilities rely on an extremely limited number of caregiving hours; washing out reusable objects that do not come completely clean in a dishwasher is not something many can compromise due to the limited number of hours provided to be driven to work, go to the bathroom, hygiene care, and eating. I myself am unable to washout my reusable straws; as a legally blind person who has limited dexterity, I find it hilarious to imagine myself sticking a tiny scrubber in a just-as-tiny hole; get the camera ready!  


The third suggestion that arises as a solution to not being required to bring your own straw or having to wash out a reusable straw is that places should continue distributing straws but only ones that are compostable. These could either be made from paper or bioplastic. Paper straws are too soft; they do not stay open or bounce back when bitten. They also fall apart quickly and make water taste disgusting. Bioplastic straws work well in cold drinks, but they instantly become unusable in hot drinks and they do not come in a bendy-straw version. 


Plastic straws were first invented for people with disabilities and illnesses and before their invention, many people with disabilities died from dehydration. Plastic straws are soft, but they keep their shape. They can be used in both hot and cold drinks. They also come in a bendy-straw version. And since they are dispensable, a person who cannot physically wash the straw does not lose their independence because of them. For many people with disabilities, plastic straws are the only way they can drink.


We live with our disabilities; we are experts on our needs. Not everyone is the same and what works for one person may not work for another. The needs of people with disabilities have been overlooked and put aside in the name of saving vulnerable turtles. People with disabilities know their needs and others need to start listening. There is a lack of understanding that those of us with disabilities are people and deserve equal access just as much as the next person.


Discrimination against a person due to one's ethnicity or gender would never be acceptable, but people with disabilities are discriminated against and this discrimination is overlooked. When the disability community asked the Seattle City Council to help create an acceptable alternative before banning plastic straw, the disability community was ignored. The disability community was not saying ignore the environment--as a person with a disability, I believe in zero waste movement and that we need to protect the environment. However, I also believe a respectful Seattle City Council would have opted to find an alternative to the plastic straw to show respect to those of us with disabilities.

Letter from the Disability Community to the Seattle City Council explaining why current alternatives do not work for all people--that the ordinance created did not take disability into account--that plastic straws are necessary for people with disabilities.

Use of one-use plastics do need to be drastically reduced. However, straws have been targeted as the item to do this. The irony of this is that plastic straws only make up about 3% of plastic waste and less than 1% of the plastic that ends up in the oceans. To contrast this number, 46% of garbage floating in the ocean is made up of fishing nets. Other surveys have been conducted that shows cigarettes, plastic bottles, and plastic bags are the top pieces of trash to lay strewn across beaches; plastic straws rank seventh. One argument for eliminating plastic straws is that they are not recyclable, but the second most found piece of trash on beaches is the recyclable plastic water bottle. If you want to make a positive impact on the environment, the plastic water bottle should be the item banned. Why are we not getting rid of plastic water bottles? Is it because it would be an inconvenience to the entire population, not just the disability community? If people truly desired to make a positive impact on the planet, they should eliminate all one-time use plastics altogether; not just the ones that do not create a huge inconvenience to the majority once they are gone.


Don't pretend to be green just to be trendy. Educate yourself on both disability and how to truly be eco-friendly. There can be a solution that works for all. I understand that the use of plastic straws needs to be eliminated but before banning this product to all there needs to be an alternative that works for all.


The issue boils down to people not being educated and not being willing to take others’ needs into consideration. People continue to fall back to the argument about the turtle video that went viral where the straw was stuck in its nose; we need to protect the turtle as it is vulnerable. But, is it okay to utilize an isolated incident to persuade the passing of a policy that impacts everyone?


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Access Intertwined: Providing an Equal Opportunity

Access to all aspects of life is deeply intertwined. It is like a chain compiled of many links hooked together; removing access to one aspect of life is like removing one of the links in the chain; the chain is then broken, removing access to everything. Having access to one thing can provide access to another just as not having access to one thing can eliminate access to another.
Access to employment is impacted by many links in the chain of life. Education, starting from early intervention and preschool through community transitions and university, impacts access to employment. Depending on what type of education one has access to at the beginning of their schooling journey, greatly impacts their entire educational experience. Whatever the entire journey of education may be, typically dictates the access to employment.
Access to accessible, affordable housing and accessible transportation also impacts access to employment; when a person lacks the ability to easily move locations and/or transverse throughout the community, the amount of employment opportunities is drastically decreased. However, access to employment also impacts access to affordable housing as not having enough income can eliminate a large number of housing options.
Affordable healthcare also impacts access to employment and education as, without adequate healthcare, people may not have the adequate quality of life to work and/or go to school; access to the right treatments can be a game changer for many. Access to adequate health care also includes access to adequate in-home care. In-home care is crucial as it is necessary for many people with disabilities to be productive in society. When people live in their own home (rather than an institution), it is typically cheaper for the State and more viable for the state as people who live at home are typically more involved within their community. Without access to in-home care, many people with disabilities would no longer have access to being able to get out of bed and go to the store (therefore, not paying sales tax), vote (which is a constitutional right), volunteer or even work. And, being able to work may even provide access to better healthcare.
Society needs to stop segregating people with disabilities and provide access to all aspects of life; if people without disabilities have access to an aspect of life, in order to have an equal opportunity, people with a disability need to be provided with that same aspect of life as well. Providing people with disabilities access to all aspects of life grants an equal opportunity. This, in turn, allows the disability community to flourish to their full potential.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Bathroom Beat: Restroom or Campground?

A couple weekends back, I traveled to Seattle, Washington, with my parents and grandparents to watch my sister compete in an indoor track meet (she is a scholarship athelete at the University of Washington). On our way there, I really had to use the bathroom. We stopped at the rest stop on I-5 located just south of Arlington. Once out of the car, I quickly made my way to the restroom. However, what I found, I had never experienced.

I entered the bathroom to find the accessible stall already occupied. This is not unusual; the accessible stall being used is actually quite typical. It was what I observered that was unusal. Over the course of about ten minutes, I began to realize that the woman in the accessible stall, was camped out in there, smoking! I could see a blanket on the floor, multiple large bags leaned up against the wall, and the bathroom began to reak more and more of cigarettes.

As I waited, women came and went. My mom scouted out the facility to see if there was another accessible stall/family bathroom that I could use. She found that there was a second half to the women's bathroom, but it was locked; the ONLY accessible stall was occupied, and not even by someone using it to go to the bathroom!

I had to pee, and could wait no longer; my body was beginning to spasm and I needed to relieve myself. So, I had a choice; I could go get back in the car and wait the hour or so remaining in our trip OR use a non-accessible stall. I had to really go -- I would not have asked to stop otherwise -- so I picked the latter.

This is how this little venture went down. My mom went and got my grandma; I parked my chair in the door way of the stall; my grandma stood behind my chair and held my coat up (to give me a little more privacy) and with my mom's assistance, I was finally able to relieve myself! I am so thankful that my grandma was with us and that Mom and I are both small enough to sqeeze into the stall together.

Even though we were able to make it work, there needs to be another solution. There needs to be more accessible stalls and people need to be more aware that the accessible stall is not for camping out, changing clothing or even for able-bodied people to use when EVERY OTHER STALL IS OPEN!

As of now, I do not have the priveledge just using another stall without having the assistance of two people and the potential of scaring some other person for life. Please be considerate; leave the accessible stall open unless it is your only option. If every other stall is full, go agead and use the accessible stall, I am no more entitled to that stall than you. But remember, that it is the only one I can use while trying to still keep my pride and dignity. I am human too, and yes, I do need to go pee.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Cripple Etiquette: More than a Patient

Last Wednesday, I went to visit a friend in the hospital. I had just been at work, so I was dressed in business-casual attire, with my hair and make-up done. I would not say I looked super perky -- as I had worked all day -- but I would not say I looked sickly or like I had just had surgery, but never the less, as I entered the elevator to leave the hospital, a man asked me if I was a patient. Since I was dressed in work attire and did not look sick, I can only assume that my wheelchair was the only indicating factor that prompted the man to ask me this question. I am curious if he asks others in the hospital the same question; however, there were two others on the elevator, and the question was solely directed at me.

Yes, I am in a wheelchair. Yes, I have been the hospital patient many other times; however, last Wednesday was not one of those days. People in wheelchairs can be visitors at hospitals, not just patients. I am more than my disability, more than a patient.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Education is the Key to Success: Self-Advocacy

People with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the United States as well as in the entire world. Anyone, at any time, can become a part of the disability community. However, people with disabilities are underrepresented and often unheard. Even though the way people with disabilities are perceived and treated has greatly improved throughout the past forty years, ableism still has a strong presence here in the United States. The best way to abolish this poor treatment of people with disabilities is to eliminate ignorance through education; education is the key to an equal opportunity.

Educating the populous includes practicing self-advocacy. Others are not going to know what you need unless you educate them. Speak up about what you can do and speak out against all the misconceptions about the things society believes you cannot do. You are your best advocate; you know who you are and what you need. Do not allow the world to define who you are, educate the world on who you truly are. 

If you are not able or do not feel comfortable being your primary advocate, designate someone you trust that will relay your wants and needs by being an advocate on your behalf. This action, in itself, is being a good self-advocate as you are expressing that you need help in the area of advocating. 


Practicing self-advocacy is not only beneficial to one’s self, but can grow into advocating for others; with becoming confident in being an advocate for one's self, comes the realization that being a self-advocate can translate into advocating for others. And as one with a disability advocates for others with similar needs, allies will realize the importance of education and access, and come along side in the advocating journey.


Advocacy is a way to educate society on the importance of access that will provide an equal opportunity for all.