Disability access and ocean conservation: Stronger together

(Clic aquí para leer en español)

Last year, the Aquarium called on California legislators to pass the Straws On Request billAs that law takes effect—and Monterey Bay communities adopt new local laws to cut back on single-use plastic—we’re working with our colleagues in the Disability community to ensure that anyone who needs a plastic straw can still access one.

In today’s guest post, Allie Cannington of the Disability Organizing (DO) Network discusses the results of a new study assessing the suitability of alternatives to plastic single-use straws for people who need them. DOnetwork is a program of the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers, funded through the Department of Rehabilitation and State Independent Living Council.


As of January 1, 2019, full-service restaurants in California may only provide straws when customers ask for them. At the same time, some cities and counties across the United States are passing local laws restricting straws and other single-use plastic materials.

At first glance, straw bans—intended to slow the rate of plastic pollution, particularly in our ocean—may seem beneficial for everyone. And yet, they can also threaten the independence of many people with disabilities.

Straw study_Russell
Russell Rawlings, left, tests a reusable stainless steel straw with a silicone tip as part of the Disability Organizing Network’s study.

Russell Rawlings, a Disabled advocate from Sacramento, reminds us that straws are an assistive technology tool. The AT Industry Association defines assistive technology as “any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.” Other well-known examples of assistive technology include wheelchairs, hearing aids and speech-to-text technology.

Hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities rely on straws as assistive technology every day. Historically and to this day, single-use plastic straws have provided people with disabilities access to independence, community integration and public life.

“Bottom line, straws enable me to access hydration with dignity,” Russell says. “Would it be possible to hydrate without them? Only if I had assistance. Do I feel the same level of dignity in a public setting without them? Absolutely not.”

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