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How to Plan a Disability Friendly Wedding
Just like any bride, a bride with a disability wants her day to be a picture perfect fairy tale with memories to last a lifetime. But with so little imagery of brides with disabilities or wedding planning tips for accessibility concerns, tackling wedding planning can be enough to turn anyone into a bridezilla. Check out the below tips for planning an accessible ceremony, disability-friendly considerations for your reception, accommodating guests with different needs, finding the perfect dress to fit wheelchair users and unconventional body types, and more.
You’re recently engaged? Congratulations! If you’re like most brides-to-be you head straight for the magazine aisle and start browsing gorgeous images of your dream dress, fairytale reception halls, and vintage inspired décor and favors.
Images of brides with disabilities will not be easily found within the pages of magazines so there are probably very few examples to go by to generate ideas and reminders for all of details you’ll need to incorporate into your big day.
The internet will probably be your best resource. Look for online forums on websites like Offbeat Bride or The Knot to connect with other non-traditional brides facing the same challenges.
A Chic Ceremony
Choosing an accessible venue.
Choosing your ceremony venue is going to be one of the most important decisions you make in the wedding planning process. It’s where you will share your first kiss as husband and wife, where you will share your vows in front of your family, and take photos to show your children and grandchildren so you will want to be sure that your venue is accessible for both you and your guests.
Make sure to visit a handful of venue options ahead of time. Walk in and out of the building, visit the dressing rooms, bathrooms, practice walking down the “aisle,” etc. Bring a notebook with you to record the little things that you will want to discuss with the venue to ensure they can accommodate your needs. Keep in mind that choosing historic churches or buildings can potentially be difficult to accommodate wheelchair users.
Working with your venue to make the space work for you.
Once you have settled on your ceremony venue, you can think about any little touches you may be able to request of your venue to make sure your day goes off without a hitch. Ask and visit the entrances and exits that both you and your spouse will be using and that guests will be using in case you have anyone coming with special needs.
Do not rely on the opinion of your venue. What they may say is “accessible” could in reality be very inaccessible depending on your needs. While you may be able to enter and exit the facility without a problem, getting to the altar, maneuvering into a receiving line, or narrow hallways and pews for your guests could pose problems.
Bring a trusted friend with you who knows your needs as well as your guests to help you remember to ask all the questions when you visit with your venue and request any accommodations that may be needed.
Remember, it never hurts to ask! What may seem inaccessible at first could be an easy fix that your venue is willing to work out with you if you feel you found your dream ceremony space. Setting clear expectations will help ensure there are no unexpected surprises and will help you find out how your venue can best accommodate your needs.
Planning your vows.
Think about if you will be staying in your wheelchair to say your vows, or if you will be “walking” yourself down the aisle or having someone walk you down, and what you want the aisle arrangement to look like. Your officiant can offer up suggestions to help make the venue work for you as well.
Plan a practice walk-through with the person who will be walking you down the aisle and with your officiant the night before the wedding. Carefully consider the type of bouquet you’d like to carry. Ask your florist if he or she has ever worked with someone with a disability before and see if they have any creative ideas for helping make carrying your bouquet down the aisle easier – whether it’s laying it in your lay, attaching a strap to connect it to your wheelchair, or making an extended handle so it’s easier to grip.
Think about the décor you want in your ceremony space and ensure it does not pose issues with you being able to maneuver around it if you use mobility equipment that may require extra room. You wouldn’t want to knock over the candelabras because they didn’t fit properly by the altar! If you are doing a sand or unity candle-type ceremony, think about having the items placed on a table that you can steady yourself at if needed and at a level comfortable for you. If you are incorporating a chuppah, consider having a collapsible, fabric chuppah built with 4 legs that your best man/bridesmaids can hold over you which can offer more flexibility for maneuvering instead of a permanent structure that makes for tight spaces.
Your receiving line.
After you say “I do” some couples choose to have a “receiving line” for their guests to greet and congratulate the happy couple. Consider placing your receiving line with plenty of wide open space for guests who may use mobility equipment as well to ensure they can get through the line to congratulate the happy couple with no problem.
A Romantic Reception
Now that you’re officially married (yay!), let the party begin!
Keep the same considerations in mind when choosing the venue for your reception as you did for your ceremony in terms of accessibility, ease of access, your and your guests’ needs, and the flexibility and willingness of the reception venue of your dreams to work with you.
Accommodating your guests
First, determine if anyone on your guest list has special needs or accommodations. Does anyone use a wheelchair, walker, crutches, or mobility equipment? Or do you have anyone elderly attending? Making sure your guests are comfortable is just as important as making sure your own accessibility needs are met.
If you are planning the seating chart, think about those with special accommodations and try to seat them in more convenient seats (i.e., not in the far back corner, plenty of room between seats, etc.)
What has been your biggest challenge planning a disability friendly wedding?
Planning the “firsts”
One of the best parts, well many parts, of the reception are all of the “firsts” you will experience with your spouse and your family. Thinking about each of your reception activities ahead of time will ensure there are no unwanted surprises.
The First Dance – If you’re just not into dancing or any other traditional reception activity, don’t feel pressured into having to go through the motions. If you DO want a first dance, or other firsts, then go for it and have fun! Practice together at home with your spouse to prepare for your first dance to figure out the best way to dance together.
Practice, Practice, Practice – it’s not a bad idea to practice your bouquet toss and garter toss at home in addition to being prepared for your first dance. Figure out if you’ll transfer onto a standard chair or stay in your wheelchair. If your spouse has a disability, practice at home to figure out the best way for him to still partake in these traditions.
Cake Cutting – Place your cake on a firm table surface. If you need to steady yourself while performing the cake cutting, you will want to ensure a strong, reliable surface. Make sure the table is at a height that is comfortable for both you and your spouse and placed in the room with plenty of space to get around the table and still at an optimal photo taking angle.
- Saying yes to your dress.
Choosing your dress is perhaps the most important (and fun!) aspect of wedding planning! Make dress shopping an event – invite your best girlfriends, mom, sisters, and whoever will give you an honest opinion.
Go into the fitting and shopping experience with an open mind. If you are a wheelchair user or someone with an atypical body type, understand that pretty much anything you try on will need to be altered or tailored.
If you are a wheelchair user, you may want to consider styles with short trains or no trains at all, minimal volume, and dresses that feature a more extravagant front rather than back. You can also ask your tailor to alter your dress so it’s shorter in the back than in the front to ensure that it will not interfere with your wheels or get dirty or tangled if it drags under your chair. You can always consider having your tailor sew a train out of any extra material that is removed from the bottom hem of your dress and attach it to the back of your wheelchair for photo ops.
If you are having a very challenging time finding a dress (or feel that it’s not worth buying a dress only to chop the majority of it up to make it fit you!) you may want to consider having your dress custom made from scratch – depending on your budget, location, and ability to find a talented seamstress. Keep in mind that this option would need to be started well in advance of your wedding date to ensure you get a custom creation that makes you feel beautiful and doesn’t end up rushed to meet your wedding day deadline.
Finding the right tux
Finding the right tux can typically be easier than finding the perfect dress. If you are the groom, bring a couple of close guy friends or family with you who can assist you with the fitting and shopping. Keep an open mind. Even guys with average builds and body types need to have their suits and tuxes tailored so if you have an atypical body type or the tux just doesn’t sit right if you are a groom in a wheelchair or other disability, never fear – most tailors can work wonders.
Before you purchase, consider using the tailor recommended by the attire store so they can assess your choice before you lay down the plastic to assure that they can make your chosen style fit like a glove.
Dressing your party
If you have anyone in your wedding party who also has a disability, consider bringing them shopping with you. Again, if they have an atypical body type, keep an open mind – nothing will probably fit right the first time off the rack.
During your shopping trip, get feel for the colors, styles, and choices that you like. If you aren’t finding what you like or what fits in standard sizes in the bridal salons, consider searching online to find a similar style in a size or from a familiar design that you know would work.
Depending on your bridal party’s budget, they may also consider having their gown or dress custom made. Consider choosing only the color or color palette and then allow your wedding party to choose the style they are most comfortable wearing for their body type and that can accommodate their wheelchairs or other physical mobility needs.
Celebrate Your Disability at Your Wedding
Your disability is a part of you. It has helped shape you into who you are and maybe even led you to your future spouse. Celebrate it! Honor your disability by working into your wedding – below are some ideas:
Personalize your wheelchair by hanging tin cans behind your wheels for a photo op or a special “Just Married” or “Mr.” and “Mrs.” signs on the backs of your wheelchairs if you are both chair users. Make your chair look as good as you do!
Decorate your equipment. Consider adding a fabric train to the back of your wheelchair or wrapping your walking device in flowers or ribbons.
Have fun with it – personalize M&Ms with a stamp of a wheelchair wheel or handicapped symbol to scatter around your table or use as favors.
A little creativity and a lot of patience planning a wedding as an untraditional couple can guarantee your big day is picture perfect, no matter your ability.
Are you a non-traditional bride or couple with a disability who has planned a wedding? What other tips do you have for planning a disability-friendly wedding? Share in the comments!