Updated with information provided by the learning disabled charity hft.
This is what independence looks like for my severely disabled daughter B.
She can do very little for herself, but drinking is one thing she can do. Yet with the understandable concern about plastic pollution, this little bit of independence could be taken away from her. Which is upsetting?
But first I’d like to explain how we got to this point, about 18 years ago…
It was time to wean my daughter off bottles. I knew she was severely disabled, but at that stage I was all for everything being age appropriate, and I didn’t want her looking like a baby. I encouraged her to try all kinds of beakers and cups. Some she couldn’t lift at all, others she lifted but spilt the contents, none got near her mouth. It was a problem.
At the same time I was working with her to develop the building blocks of speech. I spent hours encouraging her to blow tissues off my hand, and more hours putting straws in her mouth to encourage her to suck through them. She couldn’t see the point of the tissue game, but when I inserted straws into cartons of fruit juice and sometimes squeezed the cartons gently, she got the reward of a little juice, and eventually she worked out how to do it herself.
She never developed intelligible speech, but at least she learned to drink independently. Important for her self esteem, giving her a bit of control, avoiding choking incidents, and giving her carer a break too!
Now plastic straws have become the emblem of the campaign to clean up our oceans. There’s pressure to ban them, and some organisations have already done so. I am not the only person to be concerned about this – disability groups in the UK are calling for a pause, and bloggers are too.
When I tweeted about this issue I was sent this article about alternatives that are already available, so in the interests of research and being ready for the change, I decided to try them out.
I immediately rejected Bamboo straws (not bendable), paper straws (guaranteed to get chewed and soggy) and glass straws (too dangerous if bitten), but we tried these three options found on amazon…
These are bent but not bendable and are long, so B doesn’t have to lift her drink if she doesn’t feel like trying. They fit her beaker and the spill proof lids she uses. They are cold and hard, but B seemed to cope with that okay, though she got fed up by lunchtime and I had to give her a plastic one. I will keep persisting with them, though I would worry about how hygienic they would be when used with a milk drink – despite the brush that is provided for cleaning.
Silicone straws are much fatter and softer than plastic straws. They don’t fit the spill proof lids she uses, so she needed close supervision while using them. She wasn’t keen on the feel of them and I was also concerned she would take too much liquid in one go and choke.
About four times as expensive as standard plastic straws, and they weren’t the long ones that B ideally needs. Apparently they start deteriorating on contact with liquid, but I have now been told that they are not toxic like plastic and will not cause problems even when reused. I also wondered which type of bin should these straw go into, and I now know it’s the food waste bin – so long as the waste is sent to an industrial composter. B liked these straws anyway, so that’s a good start.
I don’t think the silicone straws will work for B. The steel straws are the correct length but clearly have a different mouth feel. I will encourage B to keep trying them, together with the biodegradable straws. But it would be great if the latter looked different to normal plastic straws, so we don’t get judged by other people who don’t understand. And can we have longer ones too please? Because sometimes that’s what she needs.
Finally, while I’m all for saving the world, it does feel like it’s all being put on the consumer to do this. Where in this campaign are the big companies and corporations, what are they doing? (Apart from producing expensive alternatives to plastic straws).
Skip the straw may be a great slogan, but please remember that some people will need budget priced alternatives …