Unprecedented project gives professional hairdressing training to people with intellectual disabilities


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A group of young people with intellectual disabilities is having professional training as a hairdresser’s assistant and six of them will already start their summer internship, an unprecedented project in Portugal in the struggle for inclusion in the labor market.

The training began in 2022 with a class of eight young people from the Portuguese Association of Parents and Friends of the Mentally Handicapped Citizen (APPACDM) in Lisbon, who, for eight months, one morning a week, went to learn what it is to be and what a hairdresser’s assistant does.

Unprecedented project gives professional hairdressing training to people with intellectual disabilities

At that time, everything was being tested and it was realized that only those eight months would not be enough, so the option was to continue the course for another eight months in 2023. From last year’s eight students, six have continued, to which four more youngsters from Lisbon’s APPACDM and eight from Lisbon’s CERCI (Cooperative for the Education and Rehabilitation of Maladjusted Citizens) have joined, for a total of 18 people.

On the day Lusa got to know the project, the students were learning how to receive the customer, ask what he wants, listen to the request and guide him to the respective chair, but also remembering techniques to fold towels properly, clean and dry utensils or know how to handle some work equipment.

“The idea is to make them good hairdresser’s helpers, doing all the functions that a good hairdresser’s helper does, from welcoming the client, serving coffee, hygienizing the tables, cleaning the salon, cutting silverware, folding towels,” explained Ricardo Silva, representative of the brand (Alfaparf) that finances and guarantees the training and internships.

For two years now, his weekly routine has been to attend this training course every Thursday morning – usually accompanied by three other trainers – and, to date, Ricardo Silva has not missed a single one. He has a relationship of great complicity with those students, who, he admits, “were a pleasant surprise”.

“With more or less difficulties, they had a fantastic evolution for someone who didn’t know anything about hair”, he pointed out, defending that “they have everything to succeed as long as they are focused” and have a great enthusiasm to learn.

Na opinião de Ricardo Silva, a formação tem que ser feita “na base da repetição”, mas salientou que estes jovens “têm muitas capacidades de aprendizagem”.

“Eu estou a aprender todos os dias com eles. Eles dão lições de vida diárias”, disse, emocionado.

This year’s training is almost over, and for the six young people who started the project last year the stage now is internship, which will be paid, and there are already hairdressers for all of them, where they will work during the month of August.

Sara Branco, 29, stretches her hair and braids an academic head while explaining how much she would like to work in a hairdresser: “I like washing hair, I like everything.”

“I learned how to color my hair and how to do washes. I really like drying,” says, for her part, Filipa Serrano, also 29, admitting that the hardest part was being in charge with folding towels and combing hair.

André David, 21, said he loves to clean the floor and wash it, while Paula Mexia, 48, explained in detail the correct way to place the comb so as to ensure that the client doesn’t get wet when washing his hair, and concluded: “My dream is to work in a hairdresser’s”.

Filipe Correia, 40, is in tune with the rest of the group and chooses as favorite activities washing hair, folding towels, or combing hair.

This group also includes Catarina Valente, 30, the only one who, from the initial training, is already working in a salon, Metrostudio, a partner in this training and the responsibility of Susana Bravo.

“I really like being here because this is part of my life,” he told Lusa, stressing that in this way he intends to “help his parents” since “his father is very sick.”

She explains that her duties include washing or spreading towels, but also folding them to be ready for use, sweeping the salon, washing the hair dyeing bowls, or cleaning and drying the utensils that Susana Bravo has on her cart.

“This hairdressing course is my biggest dream because next to Susana I am fine. This course is beauty in all its forms,” she stresses, alluding to the motto of the training.

For Susana Bravo, the third part in the trio that starts this training, besides APPACDM and Alfaparf, Catarina stood out right from the beginning and understood that “she was the right person” to have by her side working.

I would like to see more hairdressers joining, not only in training, but also in providing internships, but admits that there are still many fears on the part of those who employ.

“People are afraid to call attention to it because they think the fact that they have a disability might hurt, but if we see something going wrong, we have to correct it, we have to explain,” he pointed out, stressing that the same is true for any other employee and adding that they are “young people who sometimes may not be on their best days and you have to understand.”

The person responsible for the project at APPACDM pointed out that the institution intends to “do everything to promote the inclusion, autonomy, and abilities” of these people, highlighting that the path taken so far has been one of discovery and defending that “everything that can give visibility to the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities will boost employability in the future.

“We don’t want to show disability. They are really capable as long as things are adequate to each one and companies after having experiences with these people like them and repeat them. It is a matter of opening doors and everybody wins,” defended Filomena Abraços, underlining that it is often ignorance and fear that prevent more companies from employing people with disabilities.

In her opinion, “intellectual disabilities are a very forgotten fringe of society” and she denounced the small number of companies that eventually have someone like that on their staff.

“There is a lot to be done because these people are just as valid as any of the others,” he argued.

The success of the course, which has no state support whatsoever, has already led to the creation of a class in Oporto, and it is guaranteed that next year the training of the 12 who started this year will continue, as well as training for new students.

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