A campaign to stop bars and restaurants using plastic straws could cause huge problems for disabled people who struggle to lift mugs and glasses, according to an access consultant and activist.
The Straw Wars campaign, run by the website Myoo, aims to “either get rid of straws completely or provide a straw only when requested by a customer”.
Myoo says billions of non-biodegradable straws are discarded every year, ending up in landfill or the sea and potentially in the food chain.
But an access consultant from Birmingham, who blogs anonymously as Lady What Wheels (LWW), has raised serious concerns about the campaign, which has already seen a string of bars in London’s West End sign up.
She said she respected the environmental aims, but pointed out that many disabled people rely on using straws to access their drinks in bars, cafes and restaurants.
In an open letter to the campaign, she says: “I am therefore very concerned that the way in which your campaign is seeking to ‘get rid of straws completely’ and ‘eradicate plastic drinking straws’ is damaging to the access needs of many disabled people.”
She adds: “Establishments without disability awareness training need reminding that some people will not be able to have a drink if they don’t have straws available to hand.”
LWW, who herself has to use straws, told Disability News Service that she was happy to encourage people to use paper instead of plastic straws, but added: “It’s really short-sighted to make such a blasé campaign about a ‘war on straws’ because the less educated restaurants will take that option [of getting rid of all straws] because it is cheaper than providing paper straws.”
She said: “We need as much help as we can get to get access to the community, to bars, restaurants and so on.
“Just as we should be taking steps forward the last thing we need is a really, really simple, cheap step back. It is hard enough to campaign for a lift – let alone to have straws disappear.”
Her letter, which she posted on Myoo and her own blog, has already won support from other disabled people.
One suggested that – although he also endorsed the aim of not providing “unnecessary” straws – a venue failing to supply a straw on request could easily breach disability discrimination laws, as providing a straw would probably be seen as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act.
Another commented: “I can’t drink without a straw – and while I do try to carry a packet with me, I’ve no interest in drinking in an establishment that can’t be bothered to ensure that this very basic (and cheap!) access need is met.”
A Myoo spokesman said: “We already understand the concerns of disabled people and will be making changes we feel appropriate to the Straw Wars website.”
He later added: “We will inform our partners of any changes when these changes are made.”