Policies and People with Disabilities

(Last Updated On: July 24, 2018)

There has been a couple of stories this past week that led me to think about the question – how do businesses consider the impact decisions/changes to procedures have on people with disabilities? Do they consider it?

Two stories made me think about this. The first one was the decision by Starbucks and other places to begin removing plastic straws. At first glance, this decision seems like long overdue. Why add to the waste polluting our planet for something not particularly needed? However, are they needed? For some people with a disability, a straw is needed as they can’t pick up or hold the beverage. This is not a luxury…but a necessity. While the argument has been made for biodegradable straws, which would appear to be a good solution, some have said that they dissolve over time in a hot drink and leave a taste in the drink.

Another argument was that people who need a straw could use a metal straw that they then clean and can reuse. Again an excellent suggestion but this implies that it is feasible for the person to continuously clean the straw which may be challenging for someone with a disability.

Some possible solutions:

  • Similar to eliminating throw away forks and knifes, have some reusable straws that people can use and then the shop washes as part of doing their dishes.
  • Keep plastic straws behind the cash which if someone NEEDS, they can ask for, as opposed to giving out straws with every drink.

Considering the impact to all users prior to making the decision could have led to having solutions up front before having people complaining about it.


The second story that inspired this topic was an article I was reading about Aeroplan planning to start a new charter airline in 2020 when its exclusive partnership with Air Canada ends. The plan is to have both its own narrow-body aircraft and partnerships with other airlines that have similar aircraft. These narrow-body aircraft are ideally suited for flights to sun destinations in the Caribbean. Here is the issue. Can narrow-body aircraft accommodate mobility devices. When booking a vacation to Cuba in 2010, I was surprised to learn Sunwing airplanes could not accommodate my wheelchair as the belly of their planes were too low to fit on the aircraft. Given federal legislation requires airlines to be able to provide service to people with disabilities, Aeroplan would be well served to ensure that at least some of the air craft they are using, be it their own or partners, can accommodate someone with a mobility device.


From a legal standpoint, with the growing trend of governments passing accessibility legislation and encouraging full inclusion of people with disabilities, it would be wise for businesses to consider the impact of their decisions for people with disabilities. From a business standpoint, there is over 1 million Canadians who identify as having some form of disability, and with an aging population, that number is likely to grow. That makes a huge market of people that is not worth ignoring.


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