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Parents of Kids With Disabilities Are Outraged Over This Hair Salon Owner's Email

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Katlyn Oelke’s son, who has Down syndrome, was scheduled for a haircut appointment on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at A Hair For Kids Salon, a children’s hair salon in New Berlin, Wisconsin. Oelke booked the appointment online the day before. However, on Monday night, she received an email from the owner of the salon, Kathleen Curiale, informing her they would not be servicing her son, even though he’d been at the salon before.

The email read:

Dear guest of our salon
I am Kathleen the owner of the salon
It has been brought to my attention by my stylist that they feel your haircut service you have booked with us is not a good fit for your needs with us.
My stylists are not comfortable with servicing your child.
As the owner I stuck to provide excellent service with quality results. It is with great regret we will have to decline your appointment. You will need to seek another children’s salon for your services.
This is nothing personal it is just not a good fit for my stylists
I do hope you understand

Oelke posted a screenshot of the email on her Facebook page and wrote:

I should be sleeping right now but I’m absolutely outraged by this email that I received from A Hair For Kids Salon in New Berlin. Matthew has been going to this salon for a few years now and this is the email I just received tonight after I booked an appointment for him. Total discrimination! Stupid fu**s! I understand that he can be difficult but I am so hurt and disgusted. The bi*** of an owner could’ve went about it a different way. Ugh!!!!!!! They don’t deserve to get any business!

Her words garnered the attention of other parents of kids with disabilities, who shared the post and expressed outrage over the tone of the email and the discrimination, which goes against the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)  — a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on disability.

Supporters of Oelke and her son left reviews on the salon’s Facebook page. Curiale interacted with the commenters but later deleted her responses.

One message from Curiale read:

Our salon is short staffed to accommodate children with special needs that feels comfortable with those needs. Wouldn’t you rather I tell the truth than lie. At this time I don’t have a stylist that would feel comfortable. Now, if any of you know of a stylist that you know is looking for a job that would feel comfortable with children please let me know .I am short on staff I thank you for your help.

Another read, “I don’t have some one skin led [skilled enough] to handle the type of client We serve many many many special needs children everyweek. (sic)”

After coverage from Fox6 Milwaukee, the news station encouraged the salon owner to reach out. Curaile did so and expressed her regret over her unprofessional email. “She said she was sorry she was so vague in the email and she shouldn’t have come across that way and been so unprofessional,” Oelke told The Mighty. In their phone conversation, Curiale asked Oelke if she would consider bringing her son back. “I will think about it, but at this time, no,” Oelke responded.

When The Mighty reached out to A Hair for Kids Salon asking for a statement, an employee named Brooklyn said the letter was not a refusal of a child with a disability. “The child’s haircutter was not there. We do haircuts for kids with disabilities all the time,” she said. Brooklyn said they would never deny someone based on disability, as she herself is an adult on the autism spectrum. “It was wrong verbiage,” she said of the email, “misworded.”

Curiale told The Mighty they cut hair for children when most places would turn them away. Sometimes, her stylists leave notes about clients for future reference. In this instance, Curiale said an inexperienced hairstylist had been assigned to cut Oelke’s son’s hair. When the stylist read notes from a co-worker about how the boy reacts to haircuts, she did not feel sufficiently equipped and confident to cut his hair. Oelke said her son, like many other children, is afraid of haircuts and can get squirmy or cry during his appointments. Curiale said they did not know the boy had a disability, as that was not written in the notes, and they did not recognize the name, although Oelke has been taking her son to the salon for over a year.

When asked about the email she sent, Curiale said, “It was a mistake, and it was not an appropriate way to handle it.” She expressed the intended purpose of the email was to communicate the scheduled time did not work with the stylists working at that particular time, but she failed to make it clear they could reschedule when their usual stylist or a more qualified stylist was available. Curiale said she recognizes her mistake, telling The Mighty, “I was too blunt, it was too quickly expressed and the wrong way to go about it.” She understands the outrage. “It should have been a personal call,” she said. “In no way would we discriminate against anyone.”

Oelke feels the owner is backpedaling now by trying to explain her reasons and expressing her regret only because of the negative attention her salon is receiving. Had Curiale expressed the reasons from the beginning, Oelke would have never had an issue. “She was not professional at all,” she said.

Oelke offered to educate Curiale about disability. “I am not here to get her business shut down,” she told The Mighty. “I am here to raise awareness and stick up for my child who cannot speak up for himself yet.”

After discussing the incident, Curiale then asked The Mighty for guidance in how to clearly express to her customers and families that all children are welcome. She was open to criticism and ready to learn more appropriate ways of communication, taking notes and asking questions.

Originally published: November 23, 2017
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