Federal laws prohibit businesses from discriminating against disabilities, and yet stories are still going viral about differently abled women being denied service at nail salons. How is this happening? Writer Madison Lawson investigates.
Early last week a screenshot of a Yelp review for a nail salon started surfacing on Facebook. In the post, a woman from St. Peters, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, wrote about the shock and frustration she felt when a salon manager turned her daughter Beth away from getting a pedicure. The reason, Mintner claimed: because Beth was in a wheelchair.
Like Beth, I live in suburban Missouri, I use a wheelchair, and I enjoy getting my nails done. I also understand that the fairly uneventful experience is uniquely different when you have a disability. It doesn’t change the way kicking back in a massage chair makes you feel—that’s still heaven—but when you’re unsure about how willing a salon will be to accommodate you, something as relaxing as a spa day can be the source of stress and anxiety.
As Dorothy Mintner, Beth’s mother, wrote in her now viral post, “I brought my daughter, who is disabled and in a wheelchair, to get a pedicure and manicure, and we were turned away. We were told they don’t do people like her.” She went on to explain that, despite the fact that both she and Beth’s friend offered to help Beth into a pedicure chair, the manager still refused service.
“I said, ‘I’m sorry—what?'” Mintner tells Glamour of the situation. “She said, ‘We don’t take people like her,’ to which I asked, ‘What do you mean?'” According to Mintner, there was a language barrier between her and the manager, who said they didn’t know what was “wrong” with Beth and kept repeating that they could not accommodate her. “At that point, I just really needed to leave,” says Mintner. “I was too upset. And you could tell Beth was very upset.”
Mintner says the ordeal was particularly painful because it was her first time taking Beth to get a pedicure in seven years, when Beth was in an accident that left her with a traumatic brain injury. Now Beth is nonverbal.
The salon manager (who is also part owner) of Q Nails spoke to local news station KSDK and admitted she denied Beth service due to fear of hurting her. Glamour reached out to the salon manager who, at press time, had not responded to a request for comment for this story.
The issue could also be a violation of Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination from “activities” or “places of public accommodations” on the basis of disability. Mintner says she is now taking her case to the Missouri Commission on Human Rights, which can issue penalties against the salon, if they decide to take and rule on the case. According to KSDK, the penalties usually aren’t financial; rather, they could require the salon to retrain its staff or create new business policies.
The first time I went to Cierra, she asked me how I sit most comfortably. I told her the situation with my arms, and she brought her entire kit up to me so she could do my acrylics on the tray table of my wheelchair. I felt like everybody else in the salon. We spent our time gossiping about the Kardashians and our favorite trends. Now when I go in for an appointment, I don’t even think about the fact that I’m in a wheelchair because it’s not relevant. I’m just another paying customer.
You might be reading this as an able-bodied person thinking, How can I do anything to help? Recognize that people with disabilities make up the single minority that anybody could potentially become a part of at any point in their life. Seven years ago, before her accident, Beth walked into any salon she chose. She should be able to roll into any salon she wants to now.
Madison Lawson is a writer based in Columbia, Missouri. Follow her @wheelchairbarbie.