When Eco-friendly is Not Disability-friendly

light blue, lavender, and yellow plastic drinking straws stand at various angles
Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

What do you think about someone using disposable plastic straws or plastic shopping bags? Are they lazy? Selfish? They don’t care about the environment? Should plastic straws be banned? How about plastic shopping bags? These bans are becoming more and more popular throughout the world, along with companies deciding to no longer offer disposables.

But wait- what about people who, because of disability, need these items? They can just use alternatives, right? They can use paper straws, or bring their own reusable straws and bags, can’t they? Not always. In fact, people with disabilities are often unable to use the alternatives that might seem just common sense to able-bodied people.

A middle-aged man and a middle-aged woman sit in wheelchair scooters at the bottom of a ramp in front of some steps. They both have crutches hanging on their wheelchairs. The man has several stuffed animals in the basket n the front of his wheelchair.
Image by fsHH from Pixabay

Some people with compromised immune systems cannot use reusable shopping bags because the bags are vectors for bacteria and mold, which will make them ill. Some disabled people cannot use paper straws because they don’t last long enough, and cannot use reusable straws because they don’t bend or aren’t easily cleaned. They cannot drink without a straw because of issues with mobility, swallowing, or coordination.

precut chunks of watermelon in a plastic container with a plastic fork
Image by MMT from Pixabay

Some disabled people need to buy precut fruit in plastic containers. It might seem silly and wasteful to see peeled oranges wrapped in plastic, when oranges come with their own natural wrapper, but if you take a moment to ask yourself “who might need this? Why might this be necessary for someone?” I’m sure you can recognize that there are people who are physically unable to peel an orange.

I’ve seen many online conversations where, when a disabled person points out that they actually need disposable plastic straws, they’re bombarded with “can’t you just____?” and “you should use ____.” Don’t be that guy. Don’t challenge a disabled person as though you know better than them about their own life and disability. It’s not the duty of disabled people to prove their disabilities or needs to you. It’s not your job to decide who is “disabled enough” to “deserve” a straw or bag or whatever. Gatekeeping is ableist, and disabled people have to put up with it all the time. For the same reason, a restaurant having disposable straws tucked away to be given to disabled people who ask for them is not a good solution. Disabled people shouldn’t have to ask for accommodation. They should not feel the onus to explain why they need a straw. It’s nobody’s business but their own.

Now, I myself do not have a disability that necessitates any of the hot-topic items mentioned above. I’m glad you read my blog post, but you really should hear from disabled people on this issue. Here are some links for more information.

A video on the straw ban

Grasping at Straws: The Ableism of the Straw Ban

When Accessibility Gets Labeled Wasteful

The Last Straw: Ableism in Environmental Campaigns

Cutting Myself Some Slack

Today I was going to get up at nine, start writing at ten, work on reading with Luz at around eleven-thirty, and then make some very overdue phone calls. I’ve been having trouble keeping up with everyday life tasks such as paying bills, making various appointments, homeschooling my daughter, keeping the house semi-clean… you know, the kind of things that everyone else seems to do without even thinking about it. I decided my problem was that I didn’t have a specific time set aside each day for any of these tasks. When I set up my planner for this week (yesterday, because that’s another thing I have trouble keeping up with), I scheduled these tasks, and last night I made sure to set my alarm.

After waking repeatedly through the night, I pressed snooze for a whole hour this morning and woke up at ten. Sometime after eleven, I realized I desperately needed to grocery shop, but I knew there was no way I was going to make it to the store. I ordered groceries online for Publix to deliver. By the time I was done, it was past noon and I hadn’t eaten anything. I started making some food, which of course prompted two of my kids to ask me to make food for them, too. Finally, after a brief stint as a short-order cook, I ate my first meal of the day. This happens much more often than it should. I actually have a reminder set on my phone for 1pm every day to tell me to eat, because I tend to get busy and forget to eat until mid-afternoon.

After I ate, I did manage to make one phone call before realizing how much pain I was in. I mean absolutely severe physical pain. And that’s when I had to remind myself that sure, scheduling time for certain tasks would probably be helpful, but my trouble goes deeper than that.

See, I suffer from chronic pain and exhaustion that I’m pretty sure are due to fibromyalgia. I haven’t yet gotten a diagnosis (remember those appointments that I still have to make?), but I tick off most of the red flags and my primary care doctor thinks it’s likely. I also suffer from depression and anxiety, and over the past month or so I’ve weaned off one antidepressant and started another. Not only has this been absolute hell psychologically, but my physical pain has increased immensely. So today, my entire body is aching and my head is about to explode. You know how you feel when you have the flu? That achiness you feel throughout your bones and even your skin? Add a strained lower back, and that’s how I feel now.

I was feeling guilty for not sticking to my schedule, for not doing the things that appear to be so easy for everyone else. I had to stop and consciously adjust my thinking. I had to remind myself that I actually did accomplish things today. I bought groceries (they were delivered as I wrote this post). I made lunch for two of the kids. I made an appointment for my daughter to get a haircut. I took care of myself: I showered, dressed, ate, and took my medication. This is important; it’s not something I can always do. And now I’m lying in bed. I have my coffee, my sketchbook, and my knitting next to my bed on my Räskog cart. I took some ibuprofen. And I’m not going to feel guilty for having reached my limit.