Severely disabled man refused haircut due to inability to wear mask

No mask, no haircut

A community support worker who works with the severely disabled says businesses need to consider those who cannot wear face masks and find a way to avoid discriminating against them. 

Ross St. George says he tried to take a client, a non-verbal adult male, for a haircut at the Great Clips on Cooper Road on Friday but was rejected by salon staff.

His client can’t put a mask on and simply tears them off if they are put on for him.

“No mask, no service,” St. George said the salon staff told him. 

When salons were allowed to reopen in May, COVID-19 guidelines required patrons to wear masks because physical distancing is not possible for a person cutting hair. Exemptions were put in place, however, for those who cannot wear a mask for a medical reason. 

Similar exemptions were also put in place when provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made masks mandatory in all indoor public spaces. Dr. Henry resisted a mask mandate for months due to concerns over how it would impact the disabled and marginalized. 

“The individual who was refused service in a discriminatory way is a non-verbal individual who would never be able to advocate for himself,” St. George said.

Great Clips franchisee Paul Baumback says he has been struggling with mask policies that balance the protection of his staff while still seeking to service the entire community.

“At this point we are trying to figure out a way to service customers who are unable to wear a mask,” he said, explaining he has some staff who are quite worried about contracting the virus.

The hair industry as a whole is down about 30 per cent from pre-pandemic levels, Baumback said, so they are in no position to be turning away business. 

“You get people with dementia, people with Alzheimer's who don’t understand and are struggling as it is already. We are still trying to service these people as well while trying to figure out how to implement the safety features for our staff,” he said.

Baumback, who has seven locations in the Okanagan, says he is still looking into the incident with St. George’s client and gathering details from his staff to help find a permanent solution. 

He suggested they may move to an appointment system for these types of clients to ensure there is an isolated haircutting station available for them.

Complicating things, Baumback said his staff have been struggling with “never maskers” since they reopened, with some refusing to wear a mask for no good reason while hurling abuse at staff.

Premier John Horgan said this week health officials are working to address the issue of how store employees are meant to enforce the new order when it can be difficult to tell who is legitimately exempt and who is being “belligerent.”

St. George says he reached out to the media about the incident because “this is a good conversation that we need to have as a community. How do we deal with this in an inclusive way?”

B.C. RCMP spokesperson Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet has asked those with a medical mask exemption to carry a doctor's note, but disability advocates says people shouldn't have to prove their disability.

St. George said after being refused service on Friday, he brought his client to another salon chain, where he was accommodated.

More Kelowna News