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Working With Hearing Loss

When I was 13 years old, someone taught me how to french braid hair and that pretty much sealed my fate. I practiced and practiced until I got good enough to braid several girls hair during school breaks. I loved playing with hair and knew I wanted to go to beauty school right after high school.  Working with hearing loss wasn’t something I ever imagined.

For 26 years now I’ve been doing hair. In my career, I watched a few hairdressers who continued to work up into their 80’s and I figured I’d be one of those too. I’d come in a few days a week for those dedicated clients and for the socialization. I didn’t think of retirement. I wanted the smell of perms, the sound of hair dryers and all that chatter that went with it.

For 23 of those years, I’ve been wearing aids. My hearing loss is progressive and it started to get in the way at work about eight years ago. At first, I couldn’t understand people on the phone occasionally then it went to not understanding them half of the time. The clients in my chair repeated often and they were patient because I told them I didn’t hear well. Then I couldn’t hear people with my blow dryer on and it eventually got hard to hear people when another hairdresser or two (or three) had their blow dryer on.  Working with hearing loss became challenging over time.

My hearing loss progressed so much that when I moved to Salt Lake and tried to start again (I didn’t realize how trained me and my old clients were), I had a helluva time. This is when I found out noise renders me deaf. I went to work in a big, beautiful salon which was an acoustic nightmare. Seven hairdressers with at least seven clients made for a lot of noise which bounced around wrecking what little hearing I had left. I could not hear if more than three of us were working at a time. I became a deaf, mute, boring hairdresser which was not good for building a clientele in a new city. Daily frustration and anxiety plagued me so I quit. I couldn’t do it that way anymore.

I found a job working in an assisted living salon. Only two of us worked at a time but hair dryers and blow dryers could overwhelm my hearing. However! These were older people who for the most part either experienced hearing loss themselves or understood it because their significant other had it. I worked there for over a year and truly enjoyed the people I worked on. Too bad the boss continually shorted my checks and started erasing tips. I quit and tried looking for another assisted living salon to work in and found nothing open. It seemed once hairdressers found that little niche, they dig in and stay, except for the lady I worked for. She didn’t keep anyone long. Discouraged, I gave up doing hair for a few years.

Last summer I moved to a small town and found a one person salon. Maybe I could do hair again? I could control the noise, the radio volume and only one blow dryer would be on at a time, mine so I started to work again. The acoustics weren’t the best but overall, I heard better than normal in salons. Unfortunately, the town was too small and I couldn’t make my way. Options opened up again in Salt Lake City for other areas in my life but what about work? Small salons seem to be nonexistent in big cities. I’ve seen ads for studio salons (one person) for rent but there’s no way I could afford that without a clientele. What to do?

Scenes from working in Salt Lake a few years before flashed through my mind. The foremost scene was that awful experience in that big, beautiful salon. No way did I want to go through anything like that again. Then I thought about my time in the assisted living salon and how much I enjoyed working with the people there. Thoughts upon thoughts tumbled around in my mind. The what if’s started…

If I was totally honest with myself, I mostly worked with retirees and snowbirds since I’ve been doing hair. I get along with them best and they seem to like me. I know I’m supposed like working with all ages but kids are too hard to hear and young adults want wild colors I’m not wild about. What if I recognized that older people are my niche, my preference? To me, they are much more interesting people to talk with. How can I make this work with me?

Thinking…thinking, the wheels turning. What if I became a mobile hairdresser? I’ve done it for friends and family in the past so why not make it a business? It wouldn’t take much to start because I already have most of the equipment.

What if I catered to those in hospice care and the home bound? Maybe I could give them a little happiness and make enough to live on. I bet they would teach me a lot too. If I could make this work, it would be ideal for my hearing loss also because it’s a one on one situation and I get by lots better that way. Maybe this could work for everyone???

So the puzzle pieces started coming together. Within a week of moving back to Salt Lake, I checked with my the licensing department who told me to go to the city health department who told me to go to the county health department. There were a few hoops to jump through but I got it all done. I’m now waiting for my business license to come to begin.

Will I be able to make a living at it? I sure hope so. It feels right and for the first time I’m not stressing out about it at all. I feel sort of adventurous. I’m not looking to make a killing, I’m looking for a way to do what I love until I’m 80, like I originally planned in spite of my hearing issues.

Working with hearing loss can be a challenge but it’s not impossible. Not to say there isn’t a crushing blow now and then but who doesn’t have their challenges and setbacks in life? Afterward, healing time is allowed and I’ll admit, it took me over two years to want to do hair again after all the problems I had with my hearing and a shortchanging boss.

After that, I had to rebuild my self respect and I needed the distance/time to look back over it objectively to see how I could do things different in the future. Thanks to my family motto “It’s not a mistake, it’s a learning experience,” I keep learning and moving on. Thinking outside the box seems to help too.

Audrey Hepburn once said, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible!”

4 thoughts on “Working With Hearing Loss”

  1. Chelle, I absolutely love this idea! What a great way to compromise re: hearing loss and doing what you love. I wish you all the best with your mobile hairdresser business. 🙂

    BTW, my mom turns 75 next month and she still works part time at a salon! She went to school when I was in junior high and has been working as a hairdresser since the late 70s. It’s definitely something you can do long past retirement age!

  2. Chelle, Terrific idea and best of luck to you! I enjoy reading your articles and can relate to them. God bless.

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