Posted on November 23rd, 2015 by Bernhard Walke
A photo went around the Internet last week of a child with autism who was lying on the floor while the barber lay next to him in order to give the child his first haircut. The image of the barber and child on the floor is touching, but I was surprised at how much attention it received. The barber getting on the floor to cut that child’s hair is not an isolated incident — many, many people demonstrate that kind of love and compassion to children with disabilities. The image struck me because it reminds me of the accommodations our local hair salon makes for our daughter Elena.
When my wife Rosa and I arrive with Elena for an appointment at Lemonmade Style & Snips, Members of the staff greet Elena by name without any prompt from us, and they immediately swing the door wide open so we can bring her wheelchair in. In short, they treat Elena with the dignity and grace she deserves.
Elena cannot yet sit independently, so she sits on her mom’s lap during haircuts. Elena’s neck muscles give out from time to time, so I’m there to steady her head while the hairstylist makes delicate cuts to create a finely sculpted bobbed haircut with bangs. We’ve chosen this haircut because it keeps the hair out of her eyes, food out of her hair, and allows her to be a cute little girl — something we constantly think about.
And I have to say, my daughter definitely is a very cute little girl.
With Thanksgiving approaching, experiences such as this make me truly thankful for the diversity and inclusion in my community. I fear I often take it for granted. We live in Oak Park, a suburb just west of Chicago, that is not only proud to be the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway as well as Frank Lloyd Wright’s career, but also a bastion of progressive politics and diversity.
The representation of various cultures is almost comical: on our short block, there are Hispanic, Caucasian, African-American, African, Asian, French, Spanish, same-sex, Muslim, Catholic, agnostic, atheist families, you name it. Elena herself is Mexican, Peruvian, Irish and German. She understands both English and Spanish, she speaks with a computer, and she also happens to have a disability. I often feel as if everyone is represented on just our block.
Every year when the snow finally melts in Spring and all the kids on our block pour onto the street to play on the sidewalk, they always include Elena. For this I am thankful — they treat her like just another kid on the block. And on this past Halloween, when a 2-year-old girl across the street delivered treat bags to all her friends on the block, Elena’s bag had items that she could eat – our daughter is not very good (actually terrible) with hard candy, taffy, or gum.
When Elena attends story time on Saturday mornings at the Oak Park Public Library, no one bats an eye as she wheels in using her chair. Similar to the hair salon, moments like this give Elena’s life a little more normalcy.
On our last visit to the hair salon, the manager made some casual conversation asking what we were up to for the weekend. We told him we’d been in the fashion show at Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region the weekend before and had decided to lay low for the upcoming one. He responded right to Elena: “Honey, every day is a runway,” he told her. “You gotta work it!” Rosa and I bent over in laughter and thanked him for the chuckle.
Between speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy every week, Elena “works it” indeed. This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that Elena is part of the diversity in our community and is treated with the care and dignity that every child deserves, whether it be in school, on our block, or simply at the hair salon.