Plastic straws have been banned in the UK. This has been on the cards for months but the new legislation was announced only a few days ago. There’s a medical exemption for ill or disabled people who require them, and thankfully no one will have to prove a need for them. You’ll still be able to buy straws in pharmacies and online. I have some concerns about what this will mean in terms of cost and ease of access, but I’m pleased that the requirements of disabled people have been recognised, at least to some extent.
This new legislation is good news for our environment but as a disabled person who relies heavily on straws to drink with I’m concerned about how the new law will be implemented. So in this post I’m going to share seven steps I think businesses and their staff should take to ensure that the ban doesn’t have a negative impact on disabled people:
1) Understand the Issue – Straws aren’t a frivolous luxury. For many disabled people they’re an essential item because they can’t drink safely and independently without them. You can find out more about this here.
2) Source Good Quality Alternatives – Don’t just get rid of straws entirely. Make sure you source good quality alternatives that are appropriate to your business or service, and try to ensure they’re bendy so that people with limited reach or movement can use them. Look for straws that are safe for hot liquids like tea, coffee or soup. These are the biodegradable straws I use.
3) Keep a Few – You’ll no longer be able to display plastic straws publicly but you can keep a few so they’re available on request. Make sure they’re stored somewhere clean and that staff or volunteers know where they are and can get them easily.
4) Put Up A Sign – So that people who need them know that plastic straws are available on request.
5) Staff Training – Make sure your staff are well trained and correctly informed on this issue so that if someone asks for a straw they’re not made to feel bad or given incorrect information. The ban hasn’t even been implemented yet and already I’ve been told off several times for requesting a straw. It’s important that everyone understands their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments. Providing straws on request is definitely a reasonable adjustment and one that’s simple and low-cost to make.
6) Don’t Offer Advice – Disabled people don’t need you to ‘educate’ them on the alternatives to plastic straws – we’ve given this a lot of thought already! Trust that people know their own bodies and requirements. Don’t give advice unless it’s expressly requested. You can read why alternatives to plastic don’t work for me and many other people here.
7) Don’t Make Assumptions – People might need to use straws for all sorts of reasons – please don’t make assumptions or judgements about whether they’re valid or not, and recognise that many impairments are not outwardly visible. No-one should need to ‘prove’ their need for a straw.
Please take the time to share these good practice principles wherever you work, study, or hang out. It shouldn’t be up to disabled people who require straws to safeguard their right to drink. We all have a role to play in building inclusive communities, and disseminating these simple steps is one way you can help ensure that the implementation of this new legislation is as stress-free for disabled people as possible.