Accommodating Cosmetology Students with Disabilities

According to Courthouse News, a Washington D.C. cosmetology school may soon face discrimination claims for not providing a potential deaf student with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. The student attended a mandatory beauty school tour and had to bring a friend, as the school did not provide an interpreter, but then the school allegedly told the potential student they were "unable to provide an interpreter due to the great expenses it would require for our Institute and company."

This has been an ongoing battle for many students with disabilities as well as the schools. Many cosmetology schools have successfully accommodated deaf students through an interpreter - and even some without one - and helped them graduate and be able to move into the working world.

One hearing cosmetologist, Noriko Kerns-Podue who works at Creative Cuts Int'l in Torrance, California, fondly reflected on an experience she had at a barbershop in downtown Honolulu in the late '70s called The Silent Barber: "My friend and I were so curious, we went in one day to check it out. It was a solo operation, the barber was a deaf guy and he had pictures on the wall. The customers pointed to the images, sat down and got a haircut. We talked to the customers... they said they really enjoyed the peace and quiet the establishment had. Mostly he had regulars and he knew their hair. They just sat down and read the paper while he cut their hair. It really changed my perspective on men's haircutting."



We spoke with Linda McKew, Owner and Director of Education at the Academy of Nail Technology in Phoenix, Arizona, who has successfully taught a def nail technology student in the past. The student could read lips and speak, but also had some assistance from a hearing aid. McKew said that they accommodated her special needs by doing things like repeating questions from the front of the class when a student asked one, and pairing her with a student instructor for specialized one-on-one training.

"The biggest challenge was on the clinic floor when she would take real clients," McKew said. "We just let the clients know that she would have to stop and look up to 'read' the question rather than be able to talk and work at the same time. It would slow down the service a bit but that would be it."

McKew said that the deaf cosmetology student was doing well in the class and was successfully learning the theory and technique, and in fact, that teaching a deaf student made her staff better as teachers. She said it was a unique challenge, but that she's up for the job. Nail technology is largely reading and hands-on training, and with instructors to help one-on-one for specific needs, being a successful graduate of nail school or cosmetology school is totally possible for deaf students and other students with ADA-eligible physical disabilities.

"I think she was making us work like we should be as far as teaching a theory class," McKew said. "If she could understand us by reading our lips, everyone could understand. I think it made me a better instructor. It made us more conscious of everyone being able to understand us."


Title II of the ADA does include state licensing agencies and public trade schools that offer barbering training, cosmetology training, massage therapy training and other occupations. Title III covers private trade schools. Here's a little insight into the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):

  • Title III states, "No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation." and "It shall be discriminatory to subject an individual . . . on the basis of a disability . . . to a denial of the opportunity of the individual . . . to participate in or benefit from the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of an entity."
  • Section 504 states that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under" any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service.
  • Section 504 and the ADA protect qualified individuals with disabilities. An individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities means functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working.

So what are cosmetology schools required to do in order to accommodate deaf students and students with other disabilities?

  • NOT screen out individuals with disabilities.
  • NOT provide separate services or programs to individuals with disabilities, unless necessary to ensure benefits and services are equally effective.
  • Provide services in the most integrated setting possible.
  • Make reasonable modifications in policies, practices and procedures to avoid discrimination.
  • Ensure buildings are accessible to students with special needs.
  • Provide auxiliary aids (like translators) to individuals with disabilities at no additional cost to the student.

So in short, when a deaf student or students with other disabilities enroll in a higher education institution that receives federal funding, they are required to provide reasonable accommodations, which may include ASL interpreters. In some states the Department of Rehabilitation can provide the interpreter, in other cases an agency may hire them, and in still other states there may be state financial assistance available to help cover the costs. Much or all of this is tax deductible as a business expense for the school, but it can still affect the school's bottom line. Cosmetology schools should definitely take the time to get a policy and plan in place for students with disabilities that states your school does not discriminate in admissions practices or other policies.