Could straws be ambassadors to increased accessibility awareness? That question remains yet to be answered, but the discussion around them has shown itself to be one of the rare opportunities to educate a wider audience about the less visible accessibility tools used among people with disabilities. It's also proved to be a good opportunity to highlight the role of the disability community as consumers.
A number of airlines have recently made statements committing to the phaseout of straws in planes. Members of the United Spinal team have been involved in recent discussions around increased overall air travel accessibility. When the subject of straws was addressed, a general lack of awareness of the burden this would place on travelers with disabilities was expressed. With education, true concern expedited a necessity to find a solution that won’t leave travelers with disabilities without straws and dry in the sky. What that will be, though, remains to be seen.
This is the scenario being repeated across the country in relation to straws. Without a previous understanding of the needs of the disability community and a well-meaning societal push to “do good,” judgment has been clouded. Communities and companies are committing to change, but due to lack of awareness, are not including a plan for alternative accommodation. This is not an isolated incident or issue — the voices of individuals with disabilities are often not included at tables which determine our own access and inclusion.
The overarching problem here is the prevalence with which people with disabilities are left out of the decision-making process despite the impact policy changes like this one have on our lives. Given the viral nature of this issue, it is now up to us to fight for a timely resolution or risk losing this key piece of accessibility. For now, straw availability by request is an easy option that works as a universal benefit. Whether you rely on straws in public or not, we need all-wheels-on-deck to evolve this conversation and inform small and large businesses of our communities’ needs as customers.
Straws allow me additional grace, safety, cleanliness, flexibility, and independence. They are a simple solution and an unsung hero of my continued hydration. I need a straw to be available when I need it. That straw should be free of disintegrating paper, responsibility to clean or any kind of accompanying lecture about why I shouldn’t be using them. I use them because I am a busy human working and moving about this sometimes less than inclusive world, and I need a drink.
Image credit: Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash