Posted in Advocacy, intersectionality

Single-use Straws, Asthma Inhalers, and Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Autistic/Disabled Twitter has been talking about plastic, single-use straws lately.

You know, the kind you get at, say, McDonald’s, and throw away?  Apparently they’re bad for the environment.  I guess that makes sense.

But you know what they’re good for?  Helping some Disabled people be able to drink, period.  Apparently the plastic provides enough support to make it much easier to drink.

Yesterday, I saw they went ahead and banned them at one chain and more will likely follow.  Because, the planet.

This strawgate reminds me of the cheap asthma inhalers we used to have: $4 for albuterol generics, with or without insurance.  Then, the U.S. signed the Kyoto pact (pledge?) and we decided that because the propellent may or may not cause a teeny-tiny impact on the ozone layer (far less than, say, driving, or things that abled people do regularly) we had to change how we made inhalers.  The medicine is still available in a generic form, but the way it’s delivered, well, that’s proprietary now.  Even with insurance, inhalers were $50 or more.  You know who gets asthma disproportionately?  The urban poor because pollution.

Pharmaceutical companies got a big win since they could patent the device delivery mechanism.  Since switching insurance, my husband and I are waiting to see if we can really and truly get Ventolin’s Albuterol again…they developed a delivery device that feels like the old one and we swear works better than the generic delivery device, though doctors disagree.  Apparently if you have good insurance (we had it at the university), they give you the “good” inhalers vs. the “kinda okay” ones and it’s a lottery to see what you get.

Anyway, it’s not that I have a problem with helping the environment to get better, and Pope Francis is a very pro-environment guy.  But one thing the Catholic church has always pointed out is that you have to take into account the impact on the people involved.  In the case of the asthma inhalers that completely disregarded poor people’s right to be able to breathe even if they’re asthmatic and also the case of ditching the straws that will disproportionately impact some Disabled people, the people impacted were ignored if they spoke up.  These decisions moved too fast to fully take into account the impacts they would have because people were in a rush to “save the planet.”

But follow the money.  The Kyoto Pact wasn’t about saving the planet; rather, it was about saving the planet in ways the economically-advantaged could live with.  Meanwhile, the straw thing is aimed at saving the businesses money and also giving themselves a pat on the back which should translate into more people buying their products.  Given how fast food is being continually criticized by rich people who can afford nicer places to eat with healthier food, this is obviously a concern.

But it wasn’t like Disabled folks said nothing about the straw ban.  Few, if any, journalists covered this part of the story, and even if they did, people were quicker to defend the potential environmental savings than the benefits such straws give to actual people.  Sure, for now, Disabled people can buy straws like this, but that will cost money.  Like the asthma inhaler, it becomes a poor tax where the poor pay a higher cost to simply live than everyone else.  It’s not like the savings restaurants realize from changing to different kinds of straws will be passed onto customers in any real sense to offset the need to purchase straws, and even if it was, those people who can use the imitation products will still be advantaged over those who have to buy and bring their own.

And it’s just a matter of time before some town gets the idea to ban the sales of these straws all together and then Disabled people have to find ways to import them, like bootleggers or like Americans who clandestinely purchase prescription drugs from Canada because they can’t afford to buy them domestically.

I don’t have any answers to this problem because the wealthy and powerful have so much privilege they don’t really care of the poor and/or Disabled die from not being able to breathe or struggle to drink (and therefore eventually die) and I’m not foolish enough to think that a boycott of such establishments will have any real impact.  But I am saying, well, if you have the chance to support someone else who claims their lives will be threatened because you take an action, you can at least listen and slow down the train to fully explore the alternatives.

This straw thing moved fast.  Too fast.  That’s somewhat terrifying.

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