How One Barber is Proving Deafness is No Barrier to Barbering

Published 26th Oct 2023 by PB Admin

Shadia Alex, Senior Barber at West and Hunter, is one barber proving that deafness is no barrier to barbering. With the help of Managing Director Zamaine Ismail, Shadia spoke to us about her experience with barbering as a deaf person.

Shadia explains: “I am fully deaf and have been since I was two years old - without my cochlear implants I can’t hear anything at all. From an early age I have always been interested in hairdressing, however, I did not follow this path straightaway. I actually went to university and studied media, and began to pursue men’s hairdressing and barbering as an apprentice after I graduated in 2009. I have now been cutting hair professionally for over 12 years and I started working at West and Hunter in April 2022.

shadia Alex deaf barber Often, I don’t mention to clients that I lip read. However, if I struggle with their accent or if I have difficulty understanding or hearing them I let them know that I lip read so I can hold a conversation. If it’s a new client, and I feel it’s necessary, I might mention this during a consultation, or at the beginning of the haircut.

At West and Hunter, we allocate sufficient time to provide the best possible experience for our clientele, and a big part of the service is the consultation where we discuss and brainstorm ideas, so it’s during this part of the appointment where I will determine whether or not I need to mention it.

During the height of the pandemic when face masks were mandatory in barbershops, it didn’t affect me much as I was dealing with clients that I have been cutting for more than ten years. I know the hairstyles they like and how to create them without any extensive formal consultations because we already have a rapport. They all knew that I would have trouble understanding them without being able to lip read them so they would use hand gestures and even sometimes handwrite notes. However, when I dealt with new clients during the pandemic I would allocate longer at the beginning of their appointment so that I could understand exactly what they wanted and what their requirements were.

Some people might think that in an industry that centres on communication, being deaf would be challenging, but it’s all about eye contact and creating a bond with the client. Once you have established that bond, the client relaxes with you. As soon as I mention that I’m deaf, you can see the initial worry on some people’s faces, but once you create that connection their worries ease away.

For logistical purposes I always make sure I either stand in front of the clients or communicate where I can see their faces via the mirror. It’s about making them feel comfortable, demonstrating and practicing a high level of professionalism and showing our clientele that being deaf does not hinder my service or ability to create.

Working at West and Hunter is great because as a team we assist and rely on each other to enhance each other’s services and make it the best possible experience for our clientele."

west and hunter zamaine ismail Practical advice:

Zamaine Ismail, founder at West and Hunter shares his tips on how to be a more inclusive employer.


Were there any changes you had to make to allow Shadia to excel at work?

Initially, I thought I would need to allocate extra time for the consultation or have another member of the team assist with new clients. But Shadia demonstrated from the beginning that she didn’t need extra support.

We interviewed her with the confidence that she was able to provide a quality service as she had been established for over a decade, she had management skills and high-end barbering experience. We pride ourselves on employing talent at the top of their game and will support our team anyway we can.


Have you worked with staff that lip read before?

Shadia is the first person I have worked with who can lip read. As a team we often forget she lip reads as she has truly mastered the art of communication.


What would you say to an employer who was unsure about employing a barber who is deaf or partially deaf?

Being deaf or partially deaf does not obstruct one’s ability to create a high quality service so long as there is sufficient communication and a great understanding between client and stylist.

Work as a team to integrate that person into your team. Allow this person to observe your methods and be patient so they can flourish within the workplace.

Next, did you see which award West and Hunter picked up at the 2023 Modern Barber Awards?
PB Admin

PB Admin

Published 26th Oct 2023

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