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Disability advocates support limits on plastic straws
Plastic, paper, metal and glass: Brook McCall has used practically every type of straw on the market.
Metal straws are "awkward," and she's seen enough glass straws plummet toward the abyss to know they're too fragile to travel well. Paper straws disintegrate when mixed with the best of Portland's hot and cold brews.
"They're terrible with beer," she explained. "Coffee as well."
Yet the southwest Portland resident with quadriplegia supports Portland's plan to reduce the use of flexible straws and other single-use plastic utensils.
"I think it can work," said McCall, who works as a grassroots advocacy manager for the United Spinal Association. "Handing them out to every customer definitely seems unnecessary."
Disability advocates nationwide have pushed back on a plastic straw ban enacted in Seattle last month — but Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler isn't bending either.
The mayor introduced and the City Council passed a resolution in June calling on staffers to create a plastic straw and utensil reduction strategy, not a ban. That plan should be ready by October.
While Seattle's prohibition caught many people off guard, Wheeler says that Portland's disability community was always "part of the conversation."
"We made sure that the disability community is at that table and actively engaged," he said during a July 27 press conference, "and I am in no way opposed to any accommodation or exceptions that would help people with disabilities."
That's eased the concerns of many local disability advocates in Portland — who support going green as long as their voices are heard.
"We can be sustainable by moving in this direction, while also having a common-sense solution of having a box of straws for when someone with a disability requires it," said Disability Rights Oregon legal director Emily Cooper, whose disability does not require the use of plastic straws.
Cooper says that metal and glass straws pose a threat to those with less control over the muscles in their mouth and jaw. A dissolving paper straw can be a choking hazard.
As for McCall, she usually has a helper lift her glass when she dines out — but even then the timing is much easier with a flexible straw. She lost total use of her arms 16 years ago after falling off a balcony.
McCall already keeps extra straws in her backpack, but doesn't think that's a fair burden to place on every consumer with special needs, especially those traveling from out of town.
"It's really important to note that the disability community should be seen as valued customers, and having plastic straws is key to that," she said.
At least 100 businesses in the Portland area have stopped regularly dispensing plastic straws, according to the "Ditch The Straw" campaign started by the Portland chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Wheeler says more cafes and eateries are seeing the light every day.
"Sustainable policy protecting our environment is not in conflict with economic opportunity," he said at a forum at OMSI on July 9. "The public is with us, and we're going to get it done."
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