Waste Not

I am frequently given the message that I waste resources by being disabled. Healthcare is treated as a luxury in this country (USA). Welfare recipients are vilified by politicians and the media. When social security gets cut, some older folks rant about how all the money they paid in got wasted. My social security disability benefits have kept me alive, so I feel bummed when I hear people complaining about what a waste that has been.

In my efforts to earn a bachelor’s degree, the majority of my professors have refused to accommodate me in the ways disability services staff have recommended. One professor even forbade me from advocating for myself in class when other students’ behavior was interfering with my ability to learn and participate. (Interestingly enough, that was the professor that taught me the basics about social justice.)

I definitely internalize and perpetuate these attitudes toward myself. I consistently treat others’ needs as more important than mine. When I do jobs for money, I pay myself less than minimum wage because I know I don’t work as quickly as other people do. I have a hard time feeling like I have any value when I’m not doing lots of volunteer work.

I love the Earth and I am passionate about reducing litter and waste. I’ve been picking up litter in various places for about seven years. I buy bulk and bring my own containers and bags. I bring my own dishes to events with disposable dishes. I always try to have a water bottle with me.

In the past year or so, I’ve come to realize that my passion for waste reduction has become entangled with my internalized ableism. When I don’t feel worthy of having my basic needs met, I frame it as a waste issue. If I am hungry but I can’t prepare food from scratch today, is it OK to produce plastic waste by eating prepackaged food? If I forgot my water bottle at home, is it OK to buy a bottle of water to stay hydrated during a meeting? If I forgot my coffee cup at home because I was so drowsy from my meds, is it OK to get coffee in a disposable cup to help me wake up?

People who love me would probably answer any of these questions with, “Yes! And remember, you still produce way less trash than most people.” I’ve been working on being more gentle with myself about these things.

A month or two ago, I saw an article about how banning plastic straws disadvantages disabled people. It turns out that compostable straws disintegrate in hot liquids. Before reading the article, I hadn’t considered this issue because most of us don’t use straws with hot drinks. But people who need to use a straw to drink want to enjoy a hot beverage sometimes, and common alternatives to polystyrene don’t work well for this. Compostable straws melt, and stainless steel or glass straws conduct heat, thus increasing the risk of burns.

When I ask myself if I should be allowed to get a coffee even if I forgot my cup at home, I really want to be able to say yes. But when I think about this, I can’t help but also consider the people who need a straw to drink their coffee. If they forget their titanium or silicone straw at home, should they still be allowed to drink coffee at a restaurant? I’m worried that plastic straw bans are legislatively answering, “No!”

I am very concerned about plastic waste, and straw overuse is a significant part of the problem. However, I am not comfortable with a proposed solution that has the greatest negative impact on a marginalized group of people.

Ande’s Phone

I legally changed my name almost two years ago. Yesterday, I finally took on the task of updating my name with my cell phone provider. It was a huge challenge. I understand why I put if off for so long.

My old phone hardly worked anymore, so yesterday I headed to the T-mobile store four blocks from my house to update my name and shop for a new phone. I couldn’t remember where I put my court order for name change, so I took my old driver’s license and my current one with me, hoping they’d be enough.

I got to the store and waited about ten minutes to get a salesperson. I told him I needed to update my name and he said, “OK, we need to get that updated before I can even access your account for you here. Hang on a sec.” He consulted with a colleague about what to do, and came back. “You’ll need to bring in your birth certificate, social security card, and driver’s license.”

I told him my birth certificate still has my old name, but that I had an official court document from my name change. He said he thought I should bring that then. Another coworker interjected and said I needed to call customer care. Apparently the procedure for updating customer names had changed. So I went outside and stood next to a “No Loitering” sign to hang around and talk on the phone.

I called customer care and told the representative that I legally changed my name and needed to update it on my account. She asked why it changed, “Did you get married or divorced?” I said no. She asked what my name changed to, and I started to answer, “My first name is now Ande, A-N-D-E,” and she answered, “Oohhhhhh, I see what’s going on here.” My old name was more feminine so I think she figured out it was a gender thing.

She put me on hold for a bit and then told me since it wasn’t a marriage or divorce, I might have to go to a store to update my account. I told her I was standing outside the store that had just told me I needed to call her. She put me on hold for a while again. She came back and said I needed to mail “any applicable legal proof” along with a photocopy of my driver’s license to a P.O. box in Albuquerque. She said if I mailed them right away, they should be able to update my account within a month. I worried about the timeline since my driver’s license expires in a week and a half, but I kept that concern to myself for the moment.

I told the customer care person that my phone was in really rough shape and might not last a month. “Is there a way I can access my account at a store sooner than that?” She told me to bring in a legal document with my old and new names. I asked if my old and new driver’s licenses would be enough and she said probably not. I went home and searched frantically until I found my court document. I brought it with me back to the store.

I waited 5-10 minutes for my turn to talk to a salesperson. As I told him my phone number, I pulled a folder out of my bag. He asked for my ID. I opened the folder and said, “Here is my original court order for name change from the name on my account to my current name which is printed here on my current state-issued ID.” I set down my driver’s license. He looked at my documents for a moment and asked if I happened to have my old ID with me. I took it out and set it next to my current ID, which has the same photo of me that still looks like me.

He poked at his tablet for a minute or two and then said, “OK, I’ve got your name updated on your account. What else can I do for you?” I asked him in a few different ways if he had really just straightened that out for me. He had. While he helped me with my phone upgrade, I said I was glad I was able to dig up that court order that day. He said, “Oh, you could have just come in with your old and new IDs and we could have taken care of that for you.”