Getting a haircut can be a challenging experience for any child, but especially for a child with disabilities. That’s why a Minnesota mom and hair stylist is trying to open an accessible salon specifically for kids with cognitive and physical differences in St. Paul.
“As a beauty professional with daughters that have challenges, I know that there are aspects of a salon that can create obstacles for some individuals to have a positive experience. Will the building be accessible? Will there be loud music? Chemical smells? What if I need a break? How will the staff react to my differences? Getting a bad haircut can be low on the list of concerns,”Cat Miller Rongitsch wrote on the GoFundMe page she posted to raise money for the salon.
Rongitsch has a 9-year-old step-daughter named Maddy, who is paraplegic from spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, and a second daughter, 3-year-old Betty, who has cognitive disabilities. At the last salon she worked at, the front door wasn’t accessible and Maddy had to use a side entrance.
Over the years, the stylist has also made home visits to do haircuts for kids with autism who have difficulty in a salon environment.
“There’s so much anxiety and fear for the whole family going to the salon. It’s a big deal, so having me come in helps alleviate some of that. There should be a place for that,” she told The Huffington Post.
Rongitsch’s salon will have accessible entrances and wide aisles, a quiet atmosphere aided by silent blow dryers and textured flooring for people with visual impairment. The salon will also offer weighted blankets and fidget toys. She hopes to create a “safe space” for all people with disabilities to get “services with dignity.”
Recalling a photo that went viral in 2015 of a barber lying on the floor to cut the hair of a boy with autism, she says: “It was good to see that, but at the same time it made me sad that this family was so overwhelmed by the care that this stylist took with their little boy that it went viral. It should be the standard and it’s a standard I want to create.”
So far, the reception has been good. Rongitsch says she has been overwhelmed with responses from families who can’t wait to visit the salon when it is opened. As of Thursday morning, she had raised $3,895 of her $25,000 goal.
“There are so many people reaching out to me and saying ‘Thank you’ and that they’re so glad there will finally be a place for their family to go. There’s a lot of excitement and encouragement,” she says.