The recent crush of cities and businesses pledging to ban plastic straws has heartened advocates who came to the movement after a video went viral depicting a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose.
But for many people with disabilities, going without plastic straws is not a question of loving dolphins or sea turtles — it can be a matter of life or death, NPR reported.
"Disabled people have to find ways to navigate through the world because they know it was not made for us," Lei Wiley-Mydske, an autism activist who has autism herself, told NPR. "If someone says, 'This does not work for me,' it's because they've tried everything else."
Lawrence Carter-Long, communications director for the national Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, added the ban does not accommodate an instance where a person simply forgets to bring along a reusable straw from home.
"[That] doesn't leave a lot of room for spontaneity — something nondisabled folks get to largely take for granted," he told NPR.
To skeptics who ask what people with disabilities did before plastic straws were invented, the answer is brutally honest, and grim.
"They aspirated liquid in their lungs, developed pneumonia and died," Shaun Bickley, co-chair of the Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities, told NPR.
In a post detailing how the plastic straw became the cause-of-the-day for ocean lovers, Dune Ives, executive director for the Lonely Whale Foundation, wrote, "We found plastic water bottles too endemic, plastic bags already somewhat politicized, and no viable alternative for the plastic cup in ALL markets."
So, they chose plastic straws, a "playful" alternative and a "'gateway plastic' to the larger and more serious plastic pollution conversation," he wrote.
Most of the plastic in the ocean does come from land, Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told NPR.
"Straws are maybe not the biggest source of either plastic pollution or disposable plastic we consume, but they're in there," Hoover said.
Yet, in general, Hoover said she is wary of an outright ban.
"I personally think we as a country use way too many disposable water bottles," she told NPR. "That said, there are times when I'm caught somewhere, don't have a reusable bottle, and want the option to have water and not a sugary drink."
"The key is breaking habits," she added. "Is something a habit because you truly need it or because you got used to doing it that way?"
Wiley-Mydske bemoaned the straw-ban movement is "putting this burden on disabled people to come up with a solution."
"You're not asking companies that manufacture straws to come up with a version that works for us," Wiley-Mydske told NPR, adding: "You won't even take the bus instead of driving your car somewhere . . . How many of you are willing to die for the environment?"
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