When her boyfriend proposed, writer Carrie-Ann Fleming was ecstatic. But a headache loomed: as someone who requires a wheelchair, Fleming knew the wedding planning process would be exhausting. “Everything from the hen night and the dress, to the venue and the honeymoon, needs some serious creative thinking,” wrote Fleming in an article for The Guardian. “As a wheelchair user, I didn’t know where to start with all the preparations.” Fleming, who seeks to improve government standards of vacation destinations through her work with Tourism For All UK, knew the task would be daunting.
Since disabled brides and grooms are a growing minority often underrepresented in bridal magazines, Fleming found herself searching blogs and online forums for advice on planning her ceremony. She found solace in the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers, where brides-to-be vented their frustration with wedding planning. It’s becoming increasingly popular for brides to share their experience online; Disability and I Do is a blog created by Melissa, a newlywed with cerebral palsy. Melissa documented the entire process leading to the altar, and her blog now exists as an educational resource for accessible wedding planners.
Even if you do not require a wheelchair for the trip down the aisle, a vast majority of wedding planners must consider and accommodate a guest with impaired mobility. “There is so much to think about when planning a wedding, without considering access requirements,” says Fleming. “But so many suppliers and venues are open to suggestions about how they can help you, particularly small, independent companies.” Carrie-Ann Fleming is one of many brides who offer advice on creating an accessible wedding. What follows are the most common tips offered from accessible wedding planners. Above all, don’t let a physical impairment impede your wedding plans; there are plenty of approaches to creating an accessible ceremony for all.
Consider a venue where the ceremony and reception can be held in the same place.
Typically, wedding ceremonies are held in one location and the reception in another. But shuffling the bridal party from a church to an event hall can be incredibly taxing on the impaired. Fleming relates the experience of one bride-to-be when the wedding planners suggested how to accommodate her disabled grandmother: “They had planned the wedding breakfast to be upstairs, and said that four strong men would carry her and the wheelchair. The wedding coordinator could not understand my shock at this suggestion! When I asked that the wedding breakfast and reception take place in the marquee outside, they simply refused.”
Even if a venue promises to supply ramps and elevators, it’s always best to tour the facility ahead of time. Many venues create separate entrances for wheelchairs, which can be a problem if the bride’s grand entrance would be compromised. “I think that the hospitality industry are now realising that disabled guests are a loyal, growing market and that investing in accessibility makes business sense,” remarks Fleming. When checking out venues for the ceremony, ensure that all of your wedding guests and participants, even those with wheelchairs, will receive top priority. Fleming advises, “Any bride that has wedding guests with access requirements should take that person to the venue with her if possible. Just like no two brides want the same wedding, everyone’s access requirements are different.”
Consider customizing your wedding dress.
If you are a bride-to-be who will be using a wheelchair on your wedding day, trying on dresses can be difficult. Fleming recommends finding a bridal store that will allow you to take the dresses home to try, avoiding the nightmare of getting caught in a zipper while an impatient salesperson waits outside the dressing room.
Even so, finding a dream dress that won’t get caught in your wheels might seem impossible. In fact, you may be told by dress vendors that you can only wear a knee-length bridesmaids dress. Don’t listen to them! Search locally or online for a dressmaker who can create something for your needs. If you already have a dress in mind, work with a tailor to alter the dress for a more tapered fit that will keep it out of the way. Tailors are often more affordable than you think and are usually eager to take on challenges.
At the ceremony, request that everyone remains seated.
For many wheelchair users, it becomes tiring to be the only seated person in a packed room — no one wants their view to be disrupted by a row of derrières. If you want to make sure that the wheelchair users at your wedding will be comfortable and have a great view of the ceremony, tell your wedding officiant to instruct guests to remain seated, even when the bride comes down the aisle.
Just because it’s a wheelchair doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it.
For blogger Melissa of Disability and I Do, decorating her wheelchair was a must. “After paying so much… I didn’t want the black chair taking away from the dress,” she wrote. Melissa and her mother worked with a local florist to cover the chair, using the same types of flowers she chose for her ceremony. The result was beautiful and playful; Melissa proved that a wheelchair shouldn’t be hidden.
Remember, the Internet is your friend.
Whether you are concerned about your own disability or that of a guest, you are not alone. Every day, hundreds of brides write about their experiences, many of which involve wheelchairs, walking sticks, or other assisting devices. Offbeat Bride, for example, showcases plenty of alternative weddings, including Andy and Jeff, a couple who had no problem creating a beautiful wedding that just so happened to include a wheelchair. Have fun and be creative — a wheelchair doesn’t have to slow down any aspect of your life.