Accessible Weddings: Better Including and Understanding Disability

It’s no hidden secret that the wedding industry is very homogenous.

Play along with me….When you discover the word “bride” what is the first image that comes to you mind? Go on. Be honest. We’ve all received similar programming about what a bride or even wedding couple looks like. The mainstream industry often only speaks to a heterosexual able-bodied, white, twenty-something couples are getting wed.  Of course these gorgeous humans marry – but so do a whole lot of other couples too, who are often forgotten about.

Since last year, I have had the pleasure of being connected with a few of you who have been whilst navigating wedding planning with a disability and want to share some insight into their experience of planning a wedding, whilst sharing some advice on how you can plan an accessible wedding and how suppliers (because I know you like to lurk here too) can be more attitudinally inclusive to couples from a variety of backgrounds and move beyond assuming everyone is approaching their planning from the same perspective. We aren’t.

Men and small boy jumping for joy at wedding in the grass wearing navy blue suits, bow ties and brown shoes

Becky Bailey

When we think of the word ‘disability’, so many automatically think of a wheelchair user.

In black and white a disability can be defined as any physical or mental health condition that affects our ability to carry out day-to-day activities, over a short or prolonged period of time. Common disabilities can span from unseen disabilities like Crohns disease, autism, dyslexia (a learning difference), or anxiety and other mental illnesses, from common mobility differences to paralysis, to name a mere few. It’s easy to assume everyone can plan, communicate and approach their wedding planning in the same way. We don’t.

elderly relative in a wheelchair joyfully hugging man in navy suit at wedding

Dani Salmon Photography

To help shed some light –  I invited Laurie, Joy and Bethan and Erin to give us some tips and thought-provoking insight!

Laurie married Tim three years ago and is in the deaf community.

Bethan married Ash and lives with Pots Syndrome a condition which causes extreme fatigue, collapsing and vomiting on most days which leads her to use a wheelchair to help Bethan get around.

Joy and Jim, East Londoners through and through, tied the knot last year and Joy is a wheelchair user.

And also Erin who is the rock star behind Way Out Wedding and a parent carer to two beautiful children who are living with microcephaly and autism.

They all wanted to share their perspective of wedding planning and tips to consider to help you make your day and the industry physically and attitudinally more inclusive to couples, guests and children with physical or unseen disabilities.

Ready? Lets go!

Understanding

smiling mature bride with red and blonde hair in a wheelchair showered in confetti with her smiling groom

Joy and Jim | Emma Case Photography

Be clear about what you personally need and communicate that to others to help with understanding.

If you’re supporting somebody with a disability, we’re not expecting you or anyone else to know about every disability under the sun. But be curious and open to learning, ask questions,  get to understand and find out how you can help and better support. Even as a supplier or someone hosting a wedding and better looking after any guests with differing abilities. Taking the time to ask, care and better understand treats each other as human.

Bethan says: I’ve been a wheelchair user for about 2.5 years now and I didn’t have my wheelchair when I originally met my husband, Ash. So it was hard for both Ash and myself to accept, as it felt like the worst case scenario, however using a wheelchair turned out to be a great thing and it enables us to do things I could no longer do without it due to my health.

Joy says: I am passionate about disabled people leading the life they want to have. Instead of the life they are forced to live. I was excited to get married and what should have been a great experience, turned out a difficult one. I was met with such little understanding. It was like people didn’t want to deal with me. I contacted a number of bridal boutiques by telephone to book an appointment to try on wedding dresses and informed them I use a wheelchair and only one responded. What should have been a joyful time was so disheartening and I worried I would end up having to wear a night-gown on my wedding day. (Thankfully,  I didn’t).

Reasonable Adjustments & Managing Expectations

black and white interior of a church

Photo by Luo ping on Unsplash

Be clear about what you need and if the service you need is not already provided, find out if a supplier can make reasonable adjustments. If you have a long-term disability, by law under the Equalities Act 2010 – if adjustments are deemed ‘reasonable’ in order for you to access the same services as someone without a disability, you are entitled to them. Adjustments can be anything from venue accessibility, technology, 1-2-1 support, financial support, flexibility with communication and services; for example – having access to seamstress at every fitting to accommodate different body shapes, proportions and dexterity needs for example.

Laurie says: During our planning we found the Church in the UK quite unwilling to support us in attending the church services –  it was impossible for me to communicate with the Priest because they wanted us to attend services and meetings, but would not provide us with an interpreter. At one point I had to rely on my father to come to the meetings and the Priest was a lovely man but ignored me and only spoke directly to my father.

It was frustrating,  I wanted to understand my vows and to know what I was saying and most of all I was terrified I was going to arrive in Ibiza and the church would say we couldn’t get married because we hadn’t completed all that was needed to be done beforehand, because communication was lost. My father had to reassure me a lot as I did not feel included in the preparation because of this. We did have to attend marriage classes and again I had to organise my own interpreter who again was a family friend. Not everyone is lucky to know someone who is able to sign, so this is something the church needs to become more up to date with.

smiling bride walking down aisle with father on her arm, with groom looking at her with hearing aidLaurie and her wedding day | Photo:Becky Bailey

I started to really panic about our wedding ceremony as English would be a second language for our Priest in Spain, but he was so lovely and welcoming and did everything he could to ensure we understood everything and this was the week before my wedding. So, because of what happened with communication at our UK Church I was very worried about this for the whole year!

It was easier for me to communicate via email, I had to plan the wedding from the UK, but once we got to Ibiza, suppliers wanted phone numbers and were happy to text me but the transport company wanted to be able to speak on the phone, which wasn’t possible for me, so again this was dealt with by my father. 

Bethan says: I really wanted to walk down the aisle instead of roll. The venue we got married at couldn’t do enough for us and made extra precautions for me such as extra chairs, space for my chair just in case it was needed, they had ramps and lifts it was amazing! Just being reassured and having “Plan B” in case I needed help was wonderful.

Accommodating unseen disabilities

men dancing and throwing groom up in the air on the dancefloor Becky Bailey

Again communication is key –  we’re great at stereotyping in the UK and people will assume if you have an unseen disability you don’t need any adjustments. Managing expectations  upfront is key.

Erin says: A hidden or unseen disability is usually a neurological impairment, mental ill-health, or where your equipment isn’t visible e.g colostomy bags. Conditions where your brain or emotions get overwhelmed and you can’t cope in the same way ‘neuro-typical’ people can often struggle with the everyday sensory hustle and bustle of the world.

 dressing a bride , black hands, with gold bangles doing up buttons on white dressRose Photo

Consider what you need to make the day easier for you (or your partner/ guests) and if you have one – involve your carer to help support you on the day.

Ask your guests or their carer what they need to make the day easier for them. For example; for my two children,

  • Having access to the venue to visit few times before the wedding day,
  • Creating social stories around what will happen on the day and beforehand
  • Knowing the menu and making reasonable adjustments (food aversions are not fussiness)
  • Clothing –  being able to wear what they need to in terms of practicability and comfort (For example –  seams can be torture for people with neurological conditions)
  • Having the key to the disabled loo and access to a quiet and dimly lit area
  • Simply having permission and feeling able to just leave if it’s all too much. 

Information and advanced planning is key for us as is simply understanding your own or others limits

Communication

black type-writer on brown table

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Flexibility, education and communication is key!  Communicate with suppliers and guest in advance to accommodate and iron out any possible barriers.

Laurie says: As above, people need to be more willing to communicate via email or be prepared to use Facetime/Skype. Or allow for chat to be made available to have discussions whilst surfing the internet on supplier websites.
Laurie says: Wedding shows are challenging  for people in the deaf community, if they offered interpreters or 1-1 support for the couples during the show – that would be helpful.
Erin says: Education is your best friend. Don’t know about a condition? Read all you can about it. Afraid you might mess up? Seek advice about how to speak respectfully about a subject or to a person with different abilities, but just also actually get stuck in and do it .
A genuine heart is ALWAYS obvious, so don’t get het up and worry you’ll say the wrong thing. If you’re striving to understand and are coming from a good place, people know that and are delighted to speak about things and educate. Communication is at the heart of everything humans do, but recently people have become very afraid of saying anything in case they are lambasted (Nu Bride: 100% and it’s causing further segregation and less inclusion).
Probably has a lot to do with the permanence of the digital age. No one can make a mistake and learn from it and move on these days. Things said when people were younger and learning ‘how to be’ get dragged up years later and used against them. No wonder we are going backwards on a great many things. Be brave, though, ask the questions, approach the human, build up your experience and your arsenal of knowledge. Ask ‘what can I do for YOU?’ Make the world a better place.

Laurie says: For deaf people, I think lots of couples have gone for the same BSL photographers/videographers in the deaf community because we are such a small community, word of the mouth is a powerful tool. Also its the simple matter of being able to communicate with your photographer/videographer (for example) without barriers and the last thing you want is to look awkward in any photos or in the video. We used Becky Bailey and she is awesome.

 

Venue Accessibility

happy smiling blonde bride in wheelchair, holding white bouquet with smiling family getting out of a liftBethan on her wedding day | Photo:Mr and Mrs Wedding Photography

Now, we have a lot of venues in the UK that are listed buildings so they are aren’t hugely accessible for wheelchair users or people with mobility differences – which is frustrating. But adjustments can be made by looking at different points of access, providing ramps, search for accessibility information  on websites so you can plan a visit in advance.

Bethan says: Accessibility is an issue when planning a wedding with a physical disability.  We also had guests who use wheelchairs and so many venues don’t have ramps or lifts. Perhaps to include more couples it would be helpful for them to invest in improving accessibility.

Also something quite straight forward is just creating more aisle space for wheelchair users (or anyone with a pushchairs or even crutches). I need space to manoeuvre my chair and it is really difficult in dining areas in venues, for example the breakfast area, as you don’t want things knocking over or people getting caught up in their chair.

Venues should make sure they have facilities such as toilets up to standard (not something that used to be a cupboard). I also think the services always need to keep an open mind as to what people’s capabilities and not always assume.

Joy says: We experienced a lot of barriers due to venue inaccessibility. I tried to visit four bridal boutiques and was repeatedly told nothing was suitable for me, or some I couldn’t even get through the door because they didn’t have a ramp. One even told me they would have to apply to council to let me in. It was awful – it felt like they did not even want to make the effort to let me in the door. Please simply make the effort for us – we are getting married and want to celebrate just as any other person.

Inclusive suppliers worth giving shout-out

pink neon sign reads today i love you

Photo by Jari Hytönen on Unsplash

Laurie says: My photographer needs a shout out!! Becky Bailey – she was awesome! Myself and Tim are not the most comfortable in front of the camera but she made us feel so at ease and we still look at our photos nearly 3 years on and think wow! She made us look so good! 🙂 but seriously she captured the true essence of the whole day and you can see the love coming through the pictures.

Boutique Hostal Salinas – our wedding venue went above and beyond to ensure the day went smoothly and the food was so delish!!

Also Floral Dreams Ibiza where we got our flowers from were the most lovely people and brought on my first tears of the day when I saw the flowers, they were so beautiful. I kept adding to the order and changing my mind but they never once made me feel like I was being a nuisance and were very clear in their email communication to us putting our mind at rest.

AND another shout out to my interpreter Adam Archer!! So we could make sure all the deaf guests (the majority of the guest list was deaf) had access to a fully qualified sign language interpreter in sunny Ibiza!

Bethan says: Our wedding venue The Hospitium in York went above and beyond to help make my day special also i had a very understanding photographer, Craig at Mr and Mrs Wedding Photography who adapted to me sitting and standing very well, he was very professional and made me feel so comfortable in front of the camera. 

Joy says: without a doubt, Rock the Frock Bridal – (who also wrote this fabulous piece about Joy!) they were the one boutique who responded to me and thank goodness they did! They had dresses that I loved, their shop was completely accessible, they were open to learn, flexible and you were more than happy to have Jim in too, to help me in and out of my chair and more importantly they treated me as human.

100% ! You ladies rock. Thank you all so much for sharing your stories and time with Nu Bride today.

The Talent

Header image: Dani Salmon Photography

 

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