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Autistic Entrepreneur is Diversifying the Beauty Industry

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodivergent condition that can make aspects of daily life more challenging — when compared to those without ASD or other disabilities. Because ASD typically causes social, behavioral and communication differences, many autistics may feel limited when it comes to securing gainful, fulfilling employment, and especially so if and when hiring managers appear to be put off by autistic mannerisms or the concept of accessible accommodations. That’s why when Aaliyah Alicia Thompson, a 21-year-old autistic woman with a passion for beauty, wanted to let her talents shine, she opened her own salon in Stockbridge, Georgia with the intention of diversifying the beauty industry.

Thanks to the support of her family, Thompson established Aaliyah’s Beauty Bar in the fall of 2022. As a young, black female with a disability, Thompson acknowledges the great need for operating an inclusive salon that provides hair, make-up and nail services to all women. Diagnosed at the age of five, she’s always strived to break down barriers surrounding autism and, now, will also enhance diversity within the beauty industry.

Aaliyah Thompson (seated) with her team from Aaliyah's Beauty Bar, an inclusive salon offering hair, nail and make-up services for all women.
Aaliyah Thompson (seated) with her team from Aaliyah’s Beauty Bar, an inclusive salon offering hair, nail and make-up services for all women.

Further Diversifying the Beauty Industry

The unemployment rate of individuals with a disability is nearly 60 percent higher than the rate of individuals without a disability. That alarming statistic helped to motivate Thompson to boldly create Aaliyah School Of Nails, which is set to open in less than a year’s time from the creation of Aaliyah’s Beauty Bar! The school will be a first-of-its-kind training center empowering and educating beauty enthusiasts of all abilities.

“As someone with autism, I know firsthand the challenges of finding opportunities in the workforce. But I also know that individuals with autism have unique talents and abilities that can be harnessed to achieve great things,” Thompson shares. “I hope that my nail school will serve as a model for inclusive entrepreneurship and inspire others to pursue their dreams, no matter their background or challenges.”

Prepared to welcome its first round of students at the end of the summer 2023, Aaliyah School Of Nails plans to offer a comprehensive curriculum focused on all aspects of nail design and care, in addition to basic business management skills. Thompson says the inclusively-minded institution aims to provide personalized devotion to every student to, ultimately, help each achieve careers in the beauty industry, whether that be working as a nail technician at an established salon or by pursuing entrepreneurship.

A student practices applying nail polish.
Students, with and without disabilities, who attend Aaliyah School Of Nails will learn nail design and care techniques.

Hiring people with autism or other disabilities is, quite simply, smart business. Approximately 1-in-4 people in the U.S. have at least one debilitating condition and, as it turns out, members of the disability community have valuable attributes. Just like other potential employees (with and without disabilities), workers with differing abilities such as ASD are extremely driven to do a good job and, in some circumstances, can even present superior work. For example, people with ADHD can become hyper-focused on a task; and, thus, may produce high-quality nail designs repeatedly during an uninterrupted work session. Similarly, employees with ASD are usually detail-oriented, a trait that would benefit the meticulous duties of a nail technician or beauty stylist. Plus, an inclusive work environment is a positive one for all.

Tips Diversify the Beauty Industry

Grooming can be difficult for people with ASD, sensory processing disorder and other conditions. One can become overstimulated or destressed by the noise of hair scissors or razors, the sensation of clipping nails, the scent of beauty products and even the change in routine of just getting to the appointment site.

Here are a few tips for stylists and beauty professionals to bolster inclusion:

  • Be patient and kind with all customers and perhaps especially so with those who have differing abilities and may experience added anxiety during services.

    Aaliyah Thompson, an autistic entrepreneur is diversifying the beauty industry by advocating for inclusion and diversity.
    Aaliyah Thompson, an autistic entrepreneur is diversifying the beauty industry by advocating for inclusion and diversity.
  • Skip the salon gown/robe to omit tag or fabric irritation.
  • Strive to accommodate neurodiverse patrons during quieter time slots to limit overstimulation.
  • Dim lighting and lower music volume, if possible.
  • Show the client the tools that’ll be used and, if applicable, demonstrate first (i.e., comb your hair).
  • Allow sensory-sensitive customers to bring in their own product if requested to curb triggering scents.
  • Suggest a dry cut to lessen duration of the appointment and/or forgo rough pressure from the waterspout.
  • Be vocal with what is happening and what will happen. [For example: First, we will comb your hair with this round brush, then we will trim the ends with this scissor.]

Aaliyah School Of Nails will offer full-time, part-time and night classes for those interested in pursuing a certification. For questions pertaining to this program, contact their glamorous team. For those interested in exploring entrepreneurship in other business sections, check out AmeriDisability’s article: “A ‘How To Start a Business Guide’ for Entrepreneurs with Disabilities.”

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Nancy DeVault
Nancy is the managing editor of AmeriDisability. She is an award-winning storyteller passionate about health and happiness.

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