In recent weeks we have heard a lot about banning straws and saving the environment. We have also engaged, at times more animatedly than would seem necessary, in the discussion of how this would affect individuals with disabilities. I’ve heard the comment “well, figure it out!” more frequently than I would have liked.
We have had two outings recently when straws were neither provided nor offered. We’ve had to figure it out. J is not a fan of the feeling of glass on his teeth, and he’s had to make do (with more grace than I would have imagined) with drinking from a glass without spilling or dribbling too much.
I am as fond of the environment as the next person, but I fail to see (and, please, don’t come back at me with the whole landfill thing because that’s NOT what I’m referring to here) how eradicating the plastic straw will save the planet for humanity. Don’t we have bigger battles to pick? Why this little one?
Let me explain: a lot of cities across the U.S. have recycling programs. Others don’t. Not only that, but there are cities where people who do want to recycle have to drive to parking lots and other designated areas to take their recycling. In some cities, certain aspects of the recycling program have been shut down because “it’s too costly” so there might be plastic, cardboard and paper recycling, but no glass, for example.
Also, the majority of fast food businesses seldom see their plastic lids and cardboard or plastic cups return to recycling bins located in the shops. More often than not they end up in the customers’ vehicles and, from there, end up in the trash.
Recycling programs don’t accept foam, plastic hangers (which are ten for less than two dollars at most stores), pizza boxes, etc. Those things end up in the trash, too.
Why focus on, of all things, the straw? Because it’s easy, I suppose.
Well, for some people it’s not that easy to do without a straw.
Go ahead. I’ll let you sit there and fume about how now you can purchase reusable metal straws (how comfortable that must be when a cold or hot drink goes through it) or heavy-duty reusable plastic straws (those, for the most part, don’t bend). You can also argue how I should not hesitate to carry these things with me when I take J out.
Take a moment. Go through your logic.
Let’s see if my arguments make any sense:
- How many things do I already have to strategize before taking J on an outing? And my son, mind you, is fully mobile. We don’t have to contend with wheelchairs, assistive equipment (the iPad doesn’t count), oxygen tanks, etc.
- In light of the fact that the ADA often is earmarked by many as a drain on resources, an imposition on businesses and agencies, do we really think disabled people need one more worry about accessibility?
- Will we now need to buy special pouches to carry our special straws? Someone suggested, “just throw it in your purse.” If you saw the inside of the average purse you would realize it’s not the best place to throw a straw. Between the twenty other things I carry (cell phone, sunglasses, keys, wallet, pouch with eyedrops, kleenex, etc. J might need, sewing kit, pen, checkbook, charger cables (because you can’t have just the one), and so on and so forth) you’d say to yourself “that straw will never be found again, and it probably won’t be sanitary if she finds it.” (Oh, and the person that suggested maybe you can get a “certification” to justify using a straw can bite me!)
- The same person suggested that I give it to J to carry. Yes, I could do that, but…where is he going to put it. Oh, yeah…a backpack. Sorry, his brand of Autism-logic says that backpacks are only for school. “Get him some other kind of bag!” So then, when he gets tired or frustrated, I will have MY bag, HIS bag, and the bags we take so we don’t use the plastic bags stores provide. “Well, J is an adult…tell him to act like one!” Ah, alas…if I could I would…but…between the Autism and the Mental Retardation it can be a little iffy some days.
- “Maybe if you guys didn’t eat out so much…I mean: it’s just a straw, right?” No. It’s not JUST a straw. Going out to eat a meal at a restaurant is, for many individuals who are handicapped, disabled, or both is a huge step forward. It IS about accessibility. It IS about social integration. It IS about the rights of people with disabilities (and their caregivers) to lead as “normal” a life as they can within a certain framework of complications.
- How about the elderly? Don’t THEY get a straw either? What if grandma can only sip her wine through a straw? Should she, too, carry her own straw with her? “Well, if a person has needs that complicate their outings to that degree…maybe they shouldn’t go out? Why do we all need to suffer the consequences of a dying environment just because some people need straws?” How about because we’re all in this together?
I don’t think I’m more special or deserve more consideration than the average person. I don’t think J is more special or deserves more consideration than the average person. I don’t think what makes this a matter deserving attention or consideration is because some people are more special than others.
We are picking the wrong battles. We have been for a long time. We worry more about straws than we do about people. “But it’s about the environment!!!” No, not necessarily… If this was about the environment, there would be a great deal more pushback against the current US administration’s changes to environmental protection policies. We live in a society that would much rather target drinking straws than the gutting of endangered species’ protections, climate monitoring, clean energy… Need I go on?
So, please, when it comes to saving the environment, don’t raise the issue of straws with me. While my son has to graciously accept that he can’t use a straw because the environment is getting screwed up by straws in landfills, there are bigger, more important battles we could be picking to protect this world we live in; we could, for one, start being more empathetic of those differences that distinguish us from each other in a very basic level. You know: the crap we can’t really change…the color of our skin, where we were born, our gender (There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy…look it up…it’s Shakespeare), the faith we get from our culture and upbringing, our intellectual ability…
As the parents of individuals with disabilities and/or handicaps, as the caregivers of parents who have become increasingly frail due to old age or illness, as normal human beings who might find themselves in the not-so-extraordinary situation of life throwing lemons your way and having to “figure it out”…we need to pick bigger battles than straws. If it’s about feeling like we’ve “done something” the numbers might add up, but there are better things to expend our collective energy battling…