Hair Salon Styles Itself As Special Needs Specialist
NORFOLK, Va. — Justice Knight sat in the black salon chair on a recent Friday morning, a stylist behind her combing out the dead ends in her hair.
“My mom and I were going through some hair styles yesterday, and I picked the one that I really enjoy,” said the 18-year-old, who, along with her sisters, has autism.
Her hairstyle of choice was a relaxer to straighten her hair, curled into a fun, wavy bob. It’s the first time the 18-year-old has been to a salon in four years, said her mother, Natisha Knight, who lives in Chesapeake.
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Justice’s younger sister, 14-year-old Jordan, waited in the front lobby with her mother watching “The Boss Baby: Back in Business,” her pink and purple cupcake purse sitting on her lap.
It was their first time getting their hair done at All Inclusive, a salon on Poplar Hall Drive in Norfolk where children and adults with special needs can get their hair cut and styled, or even get manicures and pedicures.
For Knight, taking her two youngest girls to get their hair done has not always been an easy process. In the past, they’ve only gone with their grandmother in North Carolina, and their older sister had to be there to comfort them.
Jordan gets tense and afraid, and she can’t sit for too long, her mother said. Other salons haven’t been so understanding.
“In a salon, it was always ‘We don’t care that you need to take a break,'” she recalled. “No one else cared that they were upset.”
When she read an article about the All Inclusive salon, she had to schedule a consultation during its recent grand opening. That’s where they met their stylist, TeNisha Oliphant, who helped them pick out hairstyles.
Every client has a consultation before getting their hair done so their stylists can get to know them.
During their visit, Oliphant asked things like, “How long can they sit still?” and “Do they have any issues with noise?”
Knight said no one has ever asked them about noise before. It meant a lot that they wanted to make them comfortable, she said.
“We’re dedicated and committed to the special needs and disability community, and we’re committed to giving them quality work, not just getting them in and getting them out,” said Oliphant, who was previously a teacher’s assistant for Southeastern Cooperative Educational Programs, a local special and alternative education program.
There are five stylists, and all have been trained to work with people with disabilities, said Sam Parks, who opened the salon with her colleague, Buddy Burke.
Employees have to be CPR-certified and complete training through Therapeutic Options of Virginia. It’s a program that helps reduce violence and the use of restraint and seclusion in different settings.
Some of their stylists have children with special needs. Others, like Oliphant, have worked with people with special needs previously.
“Here, everyone has to have the patience,” Parks said.
Parks opened the salon after taking over the care for her 37-year-old brother, Robert. He’s nonverbal and has cerebral palsy and Down syndrome.
She noticed how hard it is to get him where he needs to be, and how difficult it can be to find stylists who have the knowledge and equipment to serve clients with special needs.
“We used to send (my brother) to barbershops and, you’ll be surprised by how some people aren’t really knowledgeable on how to care for them,” Parks said. “When my brother went to get his hair cut, his wheelchair wasn’t locked and he flipped backwards.”
To make those with special needs feel more comfortable, Parks put tablets at every station. She made sure the carpet was well-suited for wheelchairs and she bought an inflatable sink and silent clippers.
There are also weighted blankets that make people feel like they’re being hugged. The next task on her list is getting a wheelchair-friendly vehicle.
Knight said it’s nice to have a safe space for people with special needs to go because there aren’t many of them. Justice, her middle daughter, gave the salon a “five-star rating.”
“It’s got everything that you would want,” she said.
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