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  • Isabella Bullock

​The Accessibility of Beauty Services

Updated: Mar 26

I am a quadriplegic woman who values self-care related to my physical appearance. I love getting my hair done, a fresh manicure and pedicure, and a relaxing massage. 


A trip to the mall consists of spending too many hours and too much money at Sephora. As a disabled person, I have had many experiences that I would consider indirect discrimination because policies and choices were made without considering their impact on disabled people. Conversely, direct discrimination is outright prejudicial treatment against a disabled person because they are disabled.


While self-care related to my physical appearance is something I have always valued, accessing beauty services is one of the areas in my life I have received the most direct and indirect discrimination. Whether it was the space or service was physically inaccessible, or it was the attitude about disability from the person providing the service.


A woman  with wavy blond hair smiling at the camera

Nail Salons


Due to being a quadriplegic, I have limited dexterity in my hands, making my hand movements rigid and limiting my range of motion. This combination requires a nail technician to have patience and take their time when giving me a manicure. Instead of working with me, I have had nail salons try to provide me with a different service than what I asked for or refuse to provide me service all together.


Other times, when I have brought staff with me to assist with transferring into a pedicure chair, the nail technician talks to my staff instead of me about my wants and needs. It is important to remember who the customer is and give us the same respect as everyone else.


Hair Salons


Fun fact: just because a place is pretty does not mean it is accessible. When getting my hair done, I stay in my wheelchair and then align my chair with the shampoo bowl when it is time to wash my hair. Unfortunately, it is now trendy to buy shampoo bowls with the chair permanently attached to the bowl, which forces me to transfer out of my wheelchair for a hair wash. A salon that once did not require me to have my own staff during the hair service now does.


I was required to make a choice to leave a salon and stylist I liked due to choices like these. When discussing the issue of the new shampoo bowl with my stylist, I explained the issue was that they got new shampoo bowls with chairs permanently affixed to them, which prevented me from rolling up to the bowl in my wheelchair. I explained that this forced me to transfer out of my wheelchair - a task that I could not do independently - and that if they had a shampoo bowl that I could roll up to in my wheelchair (like they had before), I could continue to come to the salon independently. Instead of offering any real solutions, they simply replied, “I am sorry, I did not realize this would happen,” and watched my business roll out the door.


Overall Attitudes


It is not just the physical accessibility of beauty services that matters, but also the beauty industry’s attitude about people with disabilities. Often those of us with disabilities who access beauty services are labeled as “extra” or “special.” I would be rich if I had a dollar for every time I heard “look at you getting all dressed up” or “someone has a hot date tonight” during a hair or nail appointment. Comments like these leave the impression that a disabled woman cannot simply just want to look nice for the sake of it. On the other side of the coin, people with disabilities who do not utilize beauty services are labeled as not interested in the services or that they have no need for them, which perpetuates other harmful stigmas.


Where Do We Go From Here?


Beauty services are not fully accessible to people with disabilities, but things can change. When we make spaces accessible for people with disabilities, we improve spaces for all.


Let’s normalize people with disabilities in the beauty industry. Whether someone goes weekly to get their nails done or gets their hair done every two years, everyone deserves to participate in self-care and feel good doing it. Let’s support our beauty service providers by educating them about the Disability Community and how to best support the people within the community. Beauty service providers attend ongoing training about their services, but what about the diversity in the people they serve?


To improve the accessibility of beauty services, those providing the services need training on working with diverse populations, and we need to normalize people with disabilities accessing these services and not treat them as “special.” Everyone deserves to feel beautiful.


Isabella Bullock is a proud disabled woman who lives in Michigan. She is a disability activist who loves iced coffee and reading romance books.


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