Support System is Central to Success

Despite being totally deaf, Melissa Phillips has been a total success in the cosmetology business. 

In her 27-year career as a cosmetologist, Melissa “Missy” Phillips has been a salon owner, manager, hairstylist, nail technician, and winning competitor--- all despite a minor inconvenience: she’s deaf. Her addiction to nails, Phillips confesses, was slow to take hold. “I had always worked in salons where a single lowly manicuring table was kept out of sight, even at the salon i owned myself in the early 1970s. It was Phillip’s hair clients who opened her eyes to the possibilities of nails. “So many of them were coming in wearing nail art--- this was in the late 1980s--- and their nails were so beautiful. I was hooked. The first design I tried was Betty Boop. I used nail polish and a straight pin,” explains Phillips, who has worked as a technician and manager at Maggie’s Total Nails in Ocean City, Md. For four years.

How does she manage with her disability? Extremely well. “Since I lip-read so well, people tend to forget I’m deaf, so they talk while walking away. It gets funny sometimes but everyone is so supportive, really. Every now and then a new client won’t have the patience to repeat something more than once or twice. Of course, if push comes to shove there is always pencil and paper,” says Phillips. “If a nail client needs my attention, we have a little finger wiggle thing we do. Just a slight pressure with their finger and I’ll stop what I’m doing and look up. Once I’ve finished the intensive work, we’ll chat away.” Philips lost her hearing over time and so is able to speak normally.

Phillips regards her deafness as an advantage in some ways: “I rely on reading body language. Without anyone saying a word I can tell what mood someone is in and I can diffuse a problem almost before it starts,” she says. “My employer, Maggie Whittington, is 100% behind me--- behind all of us. In that kind of environment, there isn’t anything I can’t do.”

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