In a world polluted by plastics that humankind just won’t quit, Starbucks plans on phasing out plastic straws in its 28,000 stores by 2020. Many applaud the company’s decision to do its part in reducing marine plastic pollution, even though the caffeine watering hole will be replacing the straws with sippy cup-like lids made from—you guessed it!—plastic. So how much of a dent will this make in the grand scheme of protecting our environment? We have less than two years to see the results. And what about those of the disability community who depend on straws? Did Starbucks think their decision through? We reached out to some of our authors to get a broader sense of the impact this will have on several fronts: environmental activism, consumer activism, and disability rights.
By Ben Mattlin | Here’s what I know going in: Christina, sixty-two at the time we speak, is a professor of English and feminist, gender, and sexuality studies at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut, and author of the memoir A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain. In October 2003, she suffered a severe bicycling accident—a twig got caught in one of her spokes, sending her flying. Yes, a twig. “My chin took the full force of the blow, which smashed my face and broke the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae in my neck,” she writes. “The broken bone scraped my spinal cord.”
By Ben Mattlin: When I heard that Prof. Stephen Hawking had died, at seventy-six (March 14), my first question was, What of? The media and general public seemed to assume that his disability had finally caught up with him. Perhaps it had, but I wanted to make sure. I have a similar disability. Mine is spinal muscular atrophy type 2, a progressive neuromuscular weakness that’s practically indistinguishable from Hawking’s "motor neurone [sic.] disease," as the UK’s Guardian newspaper put it (most other sources dubbed his a form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS).
By Ben Mattlin: Back in 2012, I had the good fortune of publishing a book. That book. You know, the one able-bodied people are always telling crips to do because they’re sure it would be “so inspirational!”—in short, a memoir about growing up with a severe disability and somehow prospering. Indeed, being unable to walk or even scratch my nose hadn’t prevented me from going to Harvard. I was one of the first quadriplegics to matriculate, if not the first (bragging rights not yet fully established). It hadn’t prevented me from marrying (and staying married for twenty-six years now, and counting), having two delightful children, and forging a career as a freelance journalist. But of course, you already know all that, if you’ve read my first book.
By Ben Mattlin: In mid-October, disability-rights activists were justifiably outraged and dismayed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ latest action. According to the Washington Post, the Trump appointee had rescinded seventy-two policy documents related to the rights of students with disabilities. So heated were the reactions on social media and elsewhere that, a few days later, the Education Department tried to allay fears by explaining that the intent was merely to eliminate redundancies and outdated language. The changes, a department spokesperson said, would have zero effect on students with disabilities. But if they had zero effect, why bother?