By Julia Apodaca-Lane
My hair is getting long, and I need to get it cut. I haven’t even gotten a trim since last spring. Because when I went to get a couple inches cut off seven months ago, I was refused service because of mydisability. You see, I have psoriatic arthritis.
I have always had psoriasis — my mom said I was born with it. But in 2015, after a fall, I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I was rendered unable to walk within days and had a steep uphill recovery just to get back to walking around daily with a cane, which I had never used before. Psoriasis that had always been annoyingly ever-present on my scalp was now everywhere.
Having always had psoriasis on my scalp, I had experienced hairdressers giving me advice for products or asking me how much it bothered me. Even inexperienced hairdressers knew what it was and that it wasn’t contagious, even if they had never seen it firsthand.
In March, I decided my hair was too long and wanted just a few inches off. I walked into a salon attached to a Wal-Mart and requested a hair cut. There was one hairdresser working who had a client just finishing up. As she appraised me, she seemed to slowly register my cane and obvious disability. This was not unusual, since I’m in my early 30s and don’t necessarily look like I should have to walk with assistance. So I grinned and bore it, just as I expected to have to. But the words that came out of her mouth were unexpected.
“What’s your diagnosis?”
She pointed to my forehead where you could see my psoriasis creeping below my hairline. “What’s your medical diagnosis? I can see something’s wrong.”
I hoped it was the distance between us that left her visually confused, so I tried to assure her it was only psoriasis, expecting that to allay any fears.
“Um… I can’t cut your hair. I don’t know what you have.”
“It’s psoriasis. I have psoriatic arthritis. It’s a skin disorder, but it isn’t contagious.”
“Well, I’d have to ask my supervisor and she’s not here. I can’t cut your hair.”
I was in shock. I knew that people with disabilities were discriminated against. I’m in social work and have worked with people with disabilities in both my personal and professional life, but had not personally experienced it since my diagnosis. I had been trained and had practice defending other people’s rights, but now it was my rights that were being trampled on. Sometimes it can be much harder to stand up for yourself.
I ran (as well as I could) out of the salon and sat outside the Wal-Mart crying. I called my husband to come pick me up and quickly got on Facebook on my phone. I had joined a private support group for psoriatic arthritis on Facebook that boasts over 11,500 members worldwide. I knew I could rely on them to receive swift support and words of experience and wisdom. I could never have predicted what was to follow.
Within minutes, I got messages asking for specifics about the experience, where I was and what exactly happened. Within an hour, I had received a phone call from the district manager of the salon confirming details, reassuring me that training for awareness were planned for the next day in all their salons because of this and that the employee had been relieved for the day and a meeting with her was scheduled with her direct supervisor, himself, and his supervisor the day after that.
I was so gratified that people who understood my struggle but were literally on the other side of the world took the effort to start making phone calls to the agency to demand they rectify the situation. They had to stop answering the phone and unplug it because of the deluge of calls they were getting from all over the world.
In the next hour, I received a call from a news outlet who had received calls from my PsA army. They scheduled an interview for the next day. While I was reluctant to be on TV, and eventually YouTube and everywhere, because of my disability, March was Autoimmune Awareness Month, and I felt I had a responsibility to be an advocate and share my story to educate others. I hope my experience helped someone.
I hope a hairdresser saw my story and took it upon themselves to research skin disorders. I hope someone with a disability saw my story and learned that no matter who you are there are people out there who will help you if you need it. I hope someone saw my story and realized that although they don’t have a disability, they can come to the defense to a friend who does, and through their actions, they can make a difference. They can matter.
I guess it’s time I face getting a haircut again. Just to be safe I’ll go to a different salon.