Grace Brulotte in downtown Fernie. Phil McLachlan/The Free Press

Restaurant refusal last straw for Grace

Straw ban impacts adaptive community, says local with physical disabilities

A prominent Fernie woman with a severe physical disability has spoken of her shock at being refused a drinking straw at a local restaurant.

It comes as a growing number of Elk Valley businesses limit their use of plastic straws amid a global movement to eliminate them from the environment.

“When I asked for a straw, I was simply told ‘we don’t give out straws anymore’,” said Grace Brulotte.

“There was no offer of an alternative solution, such as a paper straw, they just wouldn’t give me one period.

“I was quite shocked by this because I have never been denied a straw before in any of my dining experiences.

“After the no-straw movement started gaining traction, I was often given a paper straw instead of a plastic one, which is an appropriate alternative in my opinion.”

Brulotte is confined to a wheelchair after being born with a rare neuromuscular disorder called arthrogryposis, as well as scoliosis, a spinal condition.

Because of her disability and physical limitations, the 22-year-old is unable to pick up and hold a cup, so requires a straw to drink unassisted.

“I choose to use a straw because it gives me a little more independence, instead of needing someone to hold my cup and help me drink,” she said.

“This little step forward in my independence is huge for me. Being able to do things for myself without needing help just attributes to me feeling ‘like everyone else’.”

Grace Brulotte requires a straw to drink unassisted. Photo supplied

Brulotte is a well-known “ability activist” and has spearheaded many initiatives for people with disabilities, including the Fernie Inspire the Race to Empower (FIRE) adaptive ski program.

She is not the first to be disadvantaged by the anti-straw movement, with a similar incident involving another woman with arthrogryposis reported in Toronto earlier this year.

Brulotte did not wish to publicly name the restaurant but hoped to raise awareness among the business community.

“If a restaurant wants to participate in this movement, that’s their prerogative,” she said.

“However, making sure certain groups of people aren’t affected, such as the adaptive community, should just be common courtesy.”

Brulotte said participating restaurants could ensure they were still being inclusive by offering alternatives, such as paper straws.

“Something that has become more popular is stainless steel or glass straws, which, if properly sterilized, could be reused by restaurants for customers who need them. Or simply having straws available only for people who specifically ask for them,” she said.

“Regardless of how they do it, restaurants should always have an alternative solution if they choose to participate in any movement.

“Removing a service completely, even if it’s meant benevolently, can have a negative impact that they may not even be aware of. If restaurants strive to be inclusive it creates a better experience for everyone.”

Fernie Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patty Vadnais said it was unclear how many restaurants and cafes had banned plastic straws as the movement was growing organically.

She encouraged all businesses to be inclusive and environmentally-minded.

“It is exciting to see the uptake of businesses reducing their plastic use,” she said.

“I anticipate businesses will quickly find environmentally responsible options, like A&W’s compostable straws, to meet customer’s needs.”

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