I updated “Straws, Neurodiversity, and Disability” with selections from “Starbucks’ Plan to Ban Straws Will Harm Disabled People | Bitch Media”.
Mentioning the effect that banning straws might have on disabled people has become a dangerous proposition. On social media, the anti-straw brigade lectures about alternatives disabled people are already aware of or shames disabled people for needing to drink. “Quit harming the environment because you can’t take care of your own needs,” said one helpful commenter. “Sorry, the trouble cleaning and inconvenience still doesn’t trump the damage caused by plastics,” said another.
Picking a fight over straws may seem nonsensical, but the larger low-waste and zero-waste movements, which tend to be overwhelmingly white and nondisabled, frequently single out products that benefit the disability community, like straws or pre-cut fruits and veggies, as a wasteful use of natural resources. It’s a two-part logic: One, the planet’s resources are limited and growing scarcer, and two, the way to control that is by cutting back on the use of nonrenewables. This does little to explore _which humans_are using the majority of resources on Earth and where the real choke points of waste lie. And it feeds insidious attitudes about who should be “allowed” to use the resources that are available.
The “green lifestyle” can come at the expense of disabled people who are often already living low-impact lifestyles by default. (After all, disabled people can be twice as likely to live in poverty as nondisabled people.) When environmentalists promote cutting certain products out of our lives, things that are useful for disabled people are often first on the chopping block.
The idea that disabled people are taking up space and resources they don’t deserve feeds the vitriol aimed at those who voice concerns about inclusivity and zero/low-waste causes. It also contributes to rhetoric around physician-assisted suicide, abortion for disability, healthcare rationing, and other fraught topics.Embedded in all of them is the belief that disabled lives are not worth living, and accommodating disabled people is not worth the resources. The devaluation of disabled people deprives the environmental movement of allies, including those who agree that the planet is in a state of crisis and urgent action is needed. Disabled people, particularly disabled people of color, are in many ways canaries in the coal mine because environmental injustice hits their communities first.
Rather than being considered burdens, disabled people should be viewed as incredibly valuable resources for conversations about leading better lives. A lifetime of having to hack, adapt, and subvert a society that says you don’t belong provides a considerable array of skills for rethinking the way we use natural resources.