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People with disabilities concerned about Seattle's ban on plastic straws

Since the City of Seattle banned plastic straws, people with disabilities worry about losing a vital tool.

People with disabilities are raising concerns as the campaign to ban plastic straws gains momentum. They said they need those straws to drink, and alternatives don't work as well.

“People with disabilities have enough everyday problems without having the worries of where they are going to find the right kind of straws to drink with,” said Sharon King, who has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and has very limited use of her arms.

King said the only way she can sip anything is with a bendable plastic straw. With an increasing number of plastic straw phase-outs and bans, King and others with disabilities worry the tool they use to hydrate might be increasingly difficult to find.

“A lot of people I know, they can't use a cup,” said Dianne Laurine, who also has cerebral palsy, and is on the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities.

Laurine said alternatives like paper, metal, and biodegradable materials don't work as well as plastic.

“In my 37 years of taking care of people, and 20 years I’ve been taking care of Dianne, we’ve tried just about every kind of straw; the paper, the biodegradable straws, and they usually collapse,” said Bill Reeves, Laurine’s boyfriend, and caretaker.

After enacting a plastic straw and utensil ban, Seattle allowed businesses to keep bendable plastic straws on-site for customers who need them due to a medical or physical condition.

“We want to make sure it’s understood by food service businesses that the ban does not apply to disposable flexible plastic drinking straws when needed by customers due to medical or physical conditions and for whom flexible compostable paper straws are unsuitable,” said Susan Fife-Ferris, Director, Solid Waste Planning and Program Management, Seattle Public Utilities.

However, disability rights groups say it will be yet another inconvenience to have to ask for bendable plastic straws..

They sent a letter to the Seattle City Council outlining their concerns.

“Requiring people with disabilities to treat a routine fast food trip as something that requires planning and supplies is an unplanned failure in equity,” the groups wrote.

Starbucks, which just announced it is phasing out plastic straws, said in a statement “customers are still able to get a straw - made from alternative materials - and we will work with the disability community to ensure we continue to meet their needs going forward.”

Laurine and her boyfriend and caretaker Bill Reeves said they'll be sure to plan accordingly.

“I always have straws in my backpack,” she said.

Anyone who has a medical or physical need for a flexible plastic straw and has been told Seattle’s new ordinance prohibits businesses from dispensing them is asked to call 206-343-8505 or email greenbusiness@seattle.gov.

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