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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Special needs stylist embarks on new adventure

Stepping into a hair salon to get a haircut. While it may seem like an everyday task to most people, for people living with a disability, it can be challenging to say the least.

Maitland hairdresser Desiree McDonald wanted to change that.

Inspired by her daughter, who has Cerebral Palsy, she opened a salon in 2017 dedicated to making the trip to the hairdressers that little bit easier.

“I think because I have a daughter with Cerebral Palsy I can understand how people with disabilities are sometimes not sure where they fit in, and, for me, I try and fill that void, and it makes me feel good that someone’s thinking of them.”

Word spread, and Shear Abilities became the ‘go to’ salon for those in wheelchairs, while an impressive sensory room made it accommodating for children with Autism.

“I wanted to help people in the community living with a disability and wanted people with children with Autism to have somewhere to go to have the same experience we all do,” Ms McDonald said.

“I had a separate room, a sensory room for kids that fear haircuts and I also had a hoist that transported people from wheelchairs to a special basin that laid down,” she said.

While the salon was embraced by the special needs community, it wasn’t generating enough income to remain viable after three years, meaning Ms McDonald was forced to make the devastating decision to close the salon earlier this year.

“I provided a safe environment so children weren’t around hairdryers and noisy things, and children with Autism take longer to do because sometimes they need up to 20 minutes just to desensitise,” Ms McDonald said.

“I calm them down by playing with their hair, whereas they can be resistant in a mainstream salon and the hairdresser will give them five minutes and turn them away because they aren’t sitting still.

“I wasn’t charging a lot, I was probably not charging my worth.”

And it’s that special treatment, for no extra cost, that saw the business suffer.

So, Ms McDonald is now hitting the road, taking her scissors with her as a mobile business.

She’s been making special home visits to her regulars, and some group homes.

“It’s been great because the kids can’t go somewhere it’s busy and people living with a disability are not as mobile, some don’t like the salon environment,” she said.

“For some parents, if they don’t have me, they’re cutting their kid’s hair themselves.”

People struggling with anxiety are also benefiting from the service.

“I’ve had to cut people’s hair shorter before [to last longer between haircuts], because they’ve been home for six months,” she said.

“Hair salons can be intimidating for people who don’t think they’re beautiful, to step into an environment where the people working there have spent four hours on their hair and that can be intimidating.

“I understand mental health and some people get dealt the worst thing.”

If you’re interested in a haircut, visit Shear Abilities on Facebook.

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