Ashley Faucher is showing that finding the right career is worth the challenging journey it can sometimes be. Now a successful stylist at Reflections Salon and Spa in Brighton, three years ago Ashley was a senior at Howell High School with little to no ideas for what her future held.
While many of her classmates were applying to different colleges and making plans for after graduation, Ashley was at a loss for what to do next. After years of struggling to get by in school, her grades and test scores were too low to be considered by most colleges. Ashley, who has a learning disability, looked into Oakland Community College, but the school told her she didn’t qualify for regular classes. “They said her scores were too low,” Ashley’s mother, Penny Faucher, said. “After everything we had been through, that was tough to hear.”
Because of her learning disability, Ashley has a hard time processing reading and math, and words on a page can seem confusing and overwhelming to her. Throughout high school, completing homework and preparing for tests were fraught with nerves, anxiety, and feelings of uncertainty. Test after test, Ashley had worked hard to prepare, only to receive disappointing grades in return.
Although her learning disability had affected her performance in the classroom, her intelligence and propensity for success were evident in other ways. Her freshman year of high school, Ashley memorized a complex cheer routine in just two days to make the varsity cheerleading squad, beating out older, more experienced cheerleaders for the spot.
“I learn things in different ways,” Ashley said. “Figuring out what those ways are has come in unexpected ways.” In middle school, Ashley said she got in trouble for bouncing on the trampoline while she was studying for a test once. “But it worked. I got a B. Most of the time studying ‘the right way,’ I got Fs.”
“We joke all the time about her learning disability now,” Penny said, “but back then it wasn’t so funny. We used to wonder if she would make it.” Penny said Ashley’s studying became a whole family affair. “Ashley’s father and I did all kinds of things to help her learn. She was so good at learning cheers, we used to make up cheers to help her learn material for tests.”
After graduation, Ashley started looking for a job, but nothing was panning out. “I gave my resume to a few places, but I wasn’t really putting myself out there. I was afraid of having to read or write on a job. I didn’t know how my learning disability would be on a job.” Ashley eventually got involved with Ann Arbor CIL staff members Dan Durci and Helen Ledgard, who helped Ashley develop her resume and identify job leads. After several applications, Ashley landed a job at DSW Shoe Warehouse in Brighton.
“I knew working in retail wasn’t where I ultimately wanted to end up, but the job at DSW was what I needed,” Ashley said. “It helped me face a lot of fears I had about working.” Ashley said that when she was first assigned to work on the cash register and write down orders from customers, she wasn’t sure how she would handle it. “But after a little bit of practice, it was fine. I figured out tricks to help me stay on top of things, and I learned that if I make a mistake on a job, it’s okay.”
Ashley worked at DSW for nine months and gained the confidence she needed to go after a goal she had had since she was a child: to become a professional hair stylist. Ashley took the steps to apply to cosmetology school and was ultimately accepted at Douglas J in Lansing. Through a partnership with Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Dan provided Ashley with funding to help pay for the tuition, and he helped her secure accommodations for her learning disability.
Facing a return to the classroom, though, Ashley was nervous. “I knew there were going to be a lot of hard tests. I didn’t want it to be a repeat of high school,” she said. This time, though, something was different. “For the first time, I wanted to be there. I wanted to be in school. And I wanted to do well.” With that motivation, Ashley said she made a decision that she was going to have to be open about her disability.
In high school, Ashley had always hid the fact that she had a learning disability. Many times she had passed up accommodations the school provided her for her learning disability for fear of being viewed differently by her classmates. “I never wanted anyone to see I had a learning disability. In order to use the school’s accommodations, I would have had to leave the room when a test was going on, and I didn’t want to do that. I did everything I could to hide my disability. When other kids would finish a test before me, I’d fake being done just so I wouldn’t be the last one working on a test. When I went to cosmetology school, I decided I couldn’t do that.”
At Douglas J, because of her learning disability the school offered her additional time to take tests and an assistant to read test material out loud to her. “Getting special accommodations for tests, I didn’t know how other people in the class would react,” she said. “But I was completely open about it, and my teachers and classmates turned out to be really supportive and encouraging. They knew me for me, and that was a totally new feeling.”
Ashley fought hard to achieve good grades and soon found herself getting recognition from her peers. She graduated from Douglas J in December 2008 and later passed the state licensing exam. “It was a long road of figuring out what I needed, and then advocating for it, but I made it,” she said. Shortly thereafter, Ashley landed a job at Reflections, where she now has a full schedule of repeat clients. She cuts, styles, and colors hair, as well as does manicures and pedicures.
“It’s been a long road, but it’s amazing to have made it to where I am. More than anything, this job has made me believe in myself.” She says her learning disability still affects how she does her job, but she doesn’t let it get in the way anymore: “When challenges come up, I’m open about it, and I find ways around them. If I can’t understand how to read or pronounce something, I ask a colleague. If I need to write down a word that I don’t know how to spell, I just think of something different to say.”
Ashley says her learning disability continues to influence all aspects of her life. “Going out to a restaurant is always going to be hard for me; I have a hard time with menus. But I’ve figured out that if I ask my friends what they’re ordering, it helps me understand what the menu says. And things like texting and Facebook have also really helped me with spelling.”
She says that learning to understand her learning disability, be open about it, and get around the roadblocks it puts up has taken a while, but it’s been worth the journey. “Many of my friends from high school still have no idea I have a learning disability, but with friends I meet now, and people in my career, I’m open about it,” Ashley said. “They all know and don’t care. Life is easier. They know me for me, and that means a lot.”
“It feels good to be where I am now,” Ashley added. “Looking back, there were a lot of hard struggles along the way, but enjoying all the wonderful outcomes now, it never really seems like it was all that hard.”