My Wheelin’ Life: The Story of a Disabled Nail Tech

Nail tech Sue Cook has some balance issues that require use of a wheelchair.
<p>Nail tech Sue Cook has some balance issues that require use of a wheelchair.</p>

Editor’s note: NAILS invited Freeport, Ill.-based nail tech Sue Cook to share some the challenges she and other disabled techs face at work.

The year was 2015, and I was so very excited to be graduating from my nail program. It had been a long year, and I was ready to move on to working in the career I had chosen to augment my reflexology business. I wanted to offer reflexology manis/pedis to my clientele, and they couldn’t wait. After signing up for my state boards, I moved my business into my friend's salon. I fell in love with the salon life.

My boss was experienced — and brilliant at nail art. I learned so much from her. It was wonderful and I felt extremely fortunate. I am a disabled nail tech. I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, epilepsy, and mini-strokes that make balance challenging at times. In the beginning I used a walker and oxygen, but in 2017 I started using a wheelchair/walker and oxygen. In November of 2017 our salon moved and I was unable to go with them.

Suddenly, I found myself looking for a new salon home. It had to be handicap accessible, OK with my various assistive devices, and comfortable with the assistance dog I was soon to get. That’s a tall order. I hit the pavement with my resumes and portfolio. I was optimistic that I could roll in and start work in a new salon in no time. Every salon needs a nail tech who is professional, funny, and can roll stock on her lap to restock shelves, right? How naive I was.

A sample of Sue Cook's handiwork.
<p>A sample of Sue Cook's handiwork.</p>

Disabled techs redefine the idea of beauty. Face it, the salon is about bringing out the natural beauty in each person. Showing up on a salon's doorstep with a good resume, eager outlook, and great work ethic, but also a wheelchair and oxygen is not the norm. You may not get the type of reaction you expect. I had so many varied responses (mostly no). I saw many instances where I had to enter historic buildings by bumping my walker up front steps, or having to leave by a back alley door that served as the handicapped entrance/exit. It was a bit disheartening. This is something that will hopefully change as more disabled techs hit the market.

One thing I discovered is that disabled nail techs have to bring something MORE to the salon to compensate for any disabilities we may have. It may not be fair, but it's real. Clients are less likely to worry about an oxygen tube or assistance dog if your work is on point. Education is the key. It will open doors, and we must not be afraid to toss them open wide, roll in, and tell a salon that they need us. Let your humor, kindness, education, and talent help you reach your goal.

Have I found a salon home? No, not yet, but I will! It's only a matter of time until I find my tribe. Until then I will be [cue the theme from Rawhide”] rollin’...rollin’...rollin’...

 

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