Courtesy, Cat RongitschA simple haircut can be a major stressor for someone with cognitive or physical disabilities. Loud noises from hair dryers and strong smells can trigger a person with autism, and just getting in the door can be tough for anyone in a wheelchair. But one Minnesota stylist is looking to change that by opening an accessible salon.
With a nine-year-old stepdaughter, Maddy, who uses a wheelchair because of spina bifida, Cat Rongitsch knows firsthand how inaccessible spaces like hair salons can be. “We’ve been shuffled through back doors or expected to carry her down stairs or use freight elevators because they’re not prepared to accommodate her,” says Rongitsch, who also has a three-year-old daughter who might have high-functioning autism, though she hasn’t been tested yet.
Courtesy, Cat RongitschRongitsch already makes haircut house calls to kids who find traditional salons stressful. “Everyone is desperate for a safe place that will not be a crazy meltdown experience, and oftentimes that means calling down to someone’s house,” she says. “Going anywhere else seems unimaginable.” But Rongitsch dreams of a place where anyone can feel safe and comfortable getting a haircut outside the home.
Rongitsch is making plans to open Dignified Beauty in St. Paul, Minnesota. The doors and walkways would have plenty of room for wheelchairs, and textured floors would make it easy for visually impaired people to navigate.
A spa-like atmosphere at Dignified Beauty would be less triggering or people with autism. Loud top-40 hits would be replaced with soft classical music (if anything). Stylists would use quiet hair dryers and soft voices. Fidget toys and blankets would be on hand to help people stay calm. Safe spaces would be available if anyone felt overwhelmed by sound, smell, or touch.
Courtesy, Cat RongitschAs for the staff, Rongitsch would look to hire people with “a heart full of love for each individual,” she says. Stylists would learn how to handle customers who don’t like others touching their hair. They would also give every client the same level of dignity, which is particularly important to Rongitsch, who’s seen strangers ignore Maddy. “They’re not sure if it’s a physical disability or mental disability too, so they will talk to me and not her,” says Rongitsch. “That issue is the biggest with her: just being acknowledged as a person.”
Visit the GoFundMe page for Dignified Beauty if you’d like to donate.
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