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Straw ban is a hardship for those with disabilities

The discussion to ban plastic straws in Santa Barbara is a win for local environmental groups, but the conversation is sparking a backlash from those with disabilities.

It’s especially difficult for people like Rosie Severns, who was born with cerebral palsy, to use a paper straw.

The 33-year-old Ventura resident has limited motor skills and says paper straws aren’t as sturdy.

“I like plastic straws because it is easy to use and is more sturdy,” said Severns. “It helps me with my independence. Paper straws will fall apart before I finish my drink.”

It’s people like Severns that disability groups are worried about.

Patty Shulz is the CEO at the Arc of Ventura County, a non-profit that helps people with disabilities, like cerebral palsy.

“A straw is the only way some people get nutrition and so to take that in a paper straw, it may disintegrate, it may not hold up for the length of time that it takes some to eat or drink,” said Shulz.

Shulz says reusable straws also pose a health issue.

“The issue of sanitation and keeping it clean and reusing it is also an issue for people who take their nutrition through a straw often have less immunity to infection,” said Shulz.

Last week, the Santa Barbara City Council voted to continue the discussion surrounding the ban of plastic straws.

But the city is listening to people like Severns by making an exemption that allows restaurants to provide plastic straws to those with disabilities.

Bryan Lachford works with the city’s environmental services and says the exemption came after other cities with straw bans did not include people with disabilities.

“We realized that, you know, some people with disabilities who a non-plastic alternative might not work for them,” said Lachford. “We wanted to include an exemption for businesses that would then be able to give out plastic straws to this community.

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