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Banning plastic drinking straws seems like an easy compromise. But what about people with disabilities who can’t drink without one, or can’t use more environmentally friendly alternatives?

Voices / Viewpoint

Yes, it’s a big deal

For those of us who are disabled, the ‘easy’ things we can do for the environment are not always so easy

Allyson Wendt writes about the experience of living fiercely with disabilities on her blog, persisting.org.

Brattleboro

I am tired of disabled and marginalized people being thrown under the bus in the name of environmentalism.

I’m tired of people assuming everyone can drink from a glass without a plastic straw. (I can’t always, by the way.)

And that paper straws can be an adequate replacement for everyone. And that no one has allergies to compostable, corn-based straws. And that everyone has the facilities and capacity to wash and store reusable containers. And that everyone can walk a few blocks in a walkable downtown — but where most of the buildings aren’t accessible (and many of the sidewalks aren’t either).

I believe very strongly in energy conservation, plastic reduction, dense development, reduction of car use, and a whole host of environmental causes. I always have.

But when I got sick, it finally struck home that the phrase “it’s so easy to _______” just isn’t true for everyone.

* * *

It’s become increasingly clear that when disabled, chronically ill, and marginalized people (I’m thinking here of the homeless and marginally housed) bring up these concerns, they are often met with, “Well, it’s only a few people, and surely it’s not that big of a deal.”

Let me tell you: it’s a very big deal when you’re the person who needs the straw to enjoy a drink, or you need parking available close-ish to a store with a fully accessible way to get to said store, or you are living in a tent with nowhere to wash a reusable cup and just want a cup of coffee.

It’s a very big deal when you’ve already dealt with about a million hassles that day to get around in a world that hasn’t been built with you in mind.

It’s a very big deal when this simple thing makes you feel unwelcome.

* * *

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the disability community could stop fighting for equal access because the planners and architects and legislators and activists had already thought about access in a deep, holistic way?

There are a million struggles that come with disability.

This doesn’t need to be one of them.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #467 (Wednesday, July 11, 2018). This story appeared on page D1.

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