This article is part of Rebecca Anger's monthly column Adapting to the Ordinary, where she share her personal insights and experience navigating the wedding industry as a person with disabilities.
When planning my own wedding, it was difficult to envision what our day would look like. I use a power wheelchair, my husband uses a manual chair and we invited over 25 other wheelchair users from around the world to celebrate with us. It is often an exhausting task for my husband and I to pull off an outing with just the two of us, but planning a whole day to include nearly 30 disabled people seemed impossible. Everybody’s needs are different and we wanted everyone to feel included and loved.
Whether the one member of the couple, both, or guests are disabled, there are many special details to consider so that getting hitched goes off without a hitch!
Pick Thoughtful Vendors
In general, you will want to work with vendors that are sensitive to your specific needs and wants. This is true for every couple getting married, disabled or not, however, there will likely be a bit of educating vendors on your specific needs. Don’t fear. Vendors want your business and they want couples to have a positive experience so we found that most vendors listened to our needs and made them happen.
Five Things to Consider Before You Choose Your Venue
In this edition, I want to cover venues and menus! Your venue and menu are likely the most expensive aspects of your wedding and they really set the tone for the day, ensuring disabled couples and guests can fully participate and have a wonderful time.
Here are a few things to consider when assessing if a venue is right for you:
Ensure there is an accessible entrance to all buildings. Many accessible entrances are off to the side or in the back. This isn’t ideal. Consider making the accessible entrance the entrance that ALL of your guests use so as not to promote isolation or “otherness.”
Space for Movement
Consider holding the ceremony and reception in large open spaces. Wheelchair users require extra maneuverability between tables and a larger dance floor. At least a 4-foot wide aisle between each table will allow a wheelchair user to fit without having seated guests scoot in or stand up. In terms of seating, a wheelchair takes up about the space of 2 standard chairs.
Consider getting married in or near a large city and hold the ceremony and reception in the same location. Disabled guests will most likely take advantage of the public transit that a city has to offer.
If you choose an outdoor wedding, think about how a wheelchair user or those with limited mobility will get to the location. Grass is pretty difficult to manage without concrete or fine gravel paths and a sandy beach is impossible without special mats that lay over the terrain.
Have your guests remain seated, even when the wedding party comes down the aisle. Wheelchair users are unable to see what is going on when everybody around them is standing. If you insist on people standing during the ceremony, consider putting wheelchair users close to the action so they can see what is going on.
Accessible bathrooms are as variable as the needs of the people who use them. When possible, a large gender-neutral bathroom is preferable over stalled bathrooms, as they tend to be larger and more barrier-free.
Consider Your Menus & Catering Approach
Wheelchair Accessible Buffets and Tables
You will definitely want to consider your guests’ dietary needs but also consider how food will be served. Buffet-style allows for variety but it may be difficult for wheelchair and medical device users to navigate, get their meal and return to their table balancing a plate full of food. Consider hiring extra servers to offer assistance or opt for a plated dinner or family-style service.
Don't Forget Straws
Also, don’t forget to stock the bar with straws! People with disabilities often need straws to properly drink water, soda, beer, champagne and cocktails. You don’t need to put a straw in everyone’s drink, but they should be available to anyone who needs one. These pretty paper straws are environmentally-friendly and can provide a nice design touch to a place setting!
Always Build Extra Time into the Schedule
Finally, weddings are big social events but for many, especially those with disabilities, they can be mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. When planning the Big Day’s activities allow extra time between events to ease in transitioning from one place to another. Think about providing quiet places to rest for guests with sensory disabilities or chronic pain. This is especially true if you have loud music as part of the festivities.
Planning a wedding when people with disabilities are guests or in the wedding party does not have to be daunting. With a bit of conscious effort, everybody will feel welcome and have a great time.