How to plan a disability-friendly wedding

Guest post by WheelerWife
Photo from Natalie & Tim's access-a-wedding, by Jamieson Dean)

You’re recently engaged? Congratulations! As you've probably discovered, images of brides and grooms with disabilities will not be easily found within the pages of popular magazines. So there are probably very few examples to generate ideas and reminders for all of details you’ll need to incorporate into your event.

That's why you should check out these tips for planning an accessible ceremony, disability-friendly considerations for your reception, and accommodating guests with different needs…

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.

Photo by Gary Carpenter
Photo by Gary Carpenter

Choosing a venue

Make sure that your venue is accessible for both you and your guests

  • Visit a handful of venue options ahead of time.
  • Walk 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.
  • 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.
Flying wheelchair!
Photo from Stacy & Daniel's Episcopal Dr. Seuss wedding, by Ben Blood

Work with your venue to make the space work for you

Think about what you want to request of your venue. Perhaps bring a trusted friend with you who knows your needs, as well as the needs of your guests, to help you remember to ask all the right questions.

Do not rely on the opinion of your venue. What they may say is “accessible” could, in practice, 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.

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. 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.

It's real!
Photo from Fran & Siobhán's feminist, disability-friendly, vegan wedding

Planning your ceremony

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 else walk you down. Also consider what you want the aisle arrangement to look like. Your officiant can offer 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.

Down the Aisle
Photo from “Blind women get married too,” by Stephanie Jones Photography

Carefully consider if you’d like to carry a bouquet. Get creative when it comes to carrying your bouquet — lay it in your lap, attach a strap to connect it to your wheelchair, or make an extended handle so it’s easier to grip.

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.

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.

Photo by Brian Slanger.

The reception

Keep the same considerations in mind for your venue space 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.

If you are planning a seating chart

Think about those with special accommodations, and try to place them in more convenient seats — not in the far back corner, plenty of room between seats, etc.

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.

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.

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” signs on the backs of your wheelchairs.
  • Decorate your equipment — consider adding a fabric train to the back of your wheelchair or wrapping your walking devices in flowers or ribbons.
  • Personalize your M&Ms with a stamp of a handicapped symbol to scatter around your table for favors.

A little creativity and a lot of patience planning a wedding as an non-traditional couple can guarantee a great day, no matter your ability.

What other tips do you have for planning a disability-friendly wedding? Share in the comments!

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Comments on How to plan a disability-friendly wedding

  1. If you’re having a wedding where guests will be staying on site, remember to have a look at the rooms they consider “accessible” My grandmother who uses a walker was put in an “accessible” room that had a tub/shower… she cannot use that. She had to go down the hall to my aunt’s room to shower… my aunt had a walk in shower? In the same vein, if you’re doing a room block make sure that specific accommodations like that aren’t missed- we’d specifically called and double checked and apparently the hotel considers a tub accessible (which it is not for my grandmother, no amount of grab bars will change that).

    • Hi Dusti – yes, so important to check out the hotel rooms for your guests! Thanks for bringing that up! It’s a great idea to remember to ask about details like what the shower is like or if you can see the room(s) ahead of time to make sure they will meet yours and your guests needs. Thanks so much for commenting! 🙂

  2. Check the ramps. It seems like if there is a ramp you would be in the clear for anyone with disabilities, especially those who need a walker or wheelchair. Hear me when I say :THE RAMP GIVES YOU FALSE SECURITY! I usually use my wheelchair when I leave my house, since using my cane to walk long distances or on carpet is just too painful. I cannot tell you how many times I have used an access ramp and been unable to push myself over the lip. (Or the times that they are so steep that I might as well be climbing a mountain going in and flying down the giant hill of a roller coaster when I leave.)

    • hi Elphaba09 – what a great tip about checking out the ramps. What someone without a disability who may have never used a ramp considers “accessible” and what someone who uses ramps often considers “accessible” can often be two very different things! Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. I used to work with adults with disabilities so this was on my mind when I was planning our wedding. None of our guests use walkers or wheelchairs but my step-grandmother does have limited mobility (unfortunately she was unable to make it because she was unable to travel). Two of our guests had medical conditions so we were conscious of that and asked if there was anything we could do to make our wedding more comfortable. They both said that they didn’t need anything extra. The one guest is my husband’s uncle and he really appreciated that we asked. He also really appreciated that we got married inside (climate controlled environment – he has COPD and is on oxygen) and that we got married in a theatre because the seats were comfy and the seats had good site lines. He unfortunately had to leave early due to his medical condition but he was able to stay for supper and it was nice to celebrate with him.

    Another thing we were very conscious of with our venues was space for people with small children. At our reception venue there were quieter rooms available next to the main hall (and since they were not rented for the night they were free for us to use). We also asked that the tables be spaced out so there was more room between tables. This might seem like an odd request (with their “normal” seating plan we would have only filled 2/3 of the hall so we asked that the tables be spaced so it filled the whole hall – bonus was that our reception didn’t look two-thirds full because the tables took up all of the space). This was because we had a lot of young children and this let parents have strollers and pack-n-plays set up by their tables. Some of the tables with infants also had 9 people (including the infant) so it was a bit squishy (before setting the seating plan I did make sure that the parents in these situations were ok with it).

    • Hi Eh – that is SO great that you thought of all those details for your guests with different abilities! So many people overlook those things. Very happy your guests were able to so easily celebrate with you! The extra space between the tables is a great idea.

  4. What a helpful and inspirational post! While I am not disabled I do have an aunt who has a muscle disorder that causes her to have extremely weak muscles and chronic pain. She is able to get around with the help of her husband and will use a cane when necessary but often fears going to unknown places where there may be unexpected hazards, even if she’s been told it is “accessible”. This explains why! I would be heartbroken if she was to miss my wedding. The venue I’ve chosen does have a nice gradual ramp outside as well as ADA compliant restrooms that are right near the dining area and an ADA compliant guest room in the first floor where she could stay. That being said i want to be as sensitive to her as possible without making her feel singled out. Do you ladies have any advice on how i can approach this with her to find out what other things i should consider ? Our ceremony is going to be outside in the grass and i worry about her having secure footing, even with her cane. Any advice on how to navigate that?

    • Is there any way you could put down pretty stepping stone type.pavement slabs? Might level out and solidify the ground a bit. And might look really cute as an aisle runner, seeing as its outside! Hope this helps. Xx

    • How wonderful that you would be so considerate! If you speak with her privately, she will not feel singled out– and I bet she will be thankful. (I would double check the facilities, just to be certain.) As for the outdoor ceremony, I guess it would depend on exactly where it is and how temporary or permanent. A friend of mine used old pallets (or something along those lines) to make a sort of walk way for his wedding that was held outside. (It was a public park.) They painted the wood to compliment their colors, and it looked pretty. The way they constructed it, I was able to manage it, as was his mom. Good luck!

    • Places where the terrain is uncertain are sometimes difficult to maneuver. I have the same issues and use a quad cane all the time. The other suggestions of stones would make me uncomfortable but I think that a flat fiber runner such as bamboo type material would be fine with my quad cane and someone on the other side as an escort to my seat. At a recent wedding, as a close family member, I was assigned an escort by the wedding planner and it made all the difference since I attended alone.

  5. This is really inspiring and heart warming about wedding planning. I felt really amazed on how these people set up their wedding and how they make that day very happy and special.I salute their love for each other, thumbs up to these great and wonderful people.Seize every moment of your life being a husband and wife

  6. This was an amazing article. Although I am just starting to think about what I want my wedding to be like, (I was never the little girl playing bride- more interested in being a rock star or a lawyer then) I has disheartened by the lack of disabled brides and consequently accessible wedding planning information out there when I started planning. Thank you for your advice. I also wanted to add a small tip. If you are like me and use a wheelchair for anything beyond tiny distances but are determined to “walk down the aisle,” consider setting up the alter so you, your groom and your wedding party are seated. Not only will it keep everyone on the same level for pictures but it helps if any in your party have limited mobility- both my groom and MOH (twin sister) do.

  7. Being a bride that’s in a wheelchair most of the time, I have a hard time with my weight. Do any of my fellow brides have any tips for exercises to help get fit for the wedding?

  8. I realize this isn’t ideal but I wanted to get a take on it–my fiance and I are looking at a historic venue by his favorite architect, but there’s one big issue. There are 23 steps (with a landing after step 18) to get to the reception space. There are no alternatives. There are also 5 more steps to a non-ADA bathroom, but that can be remedied with a ramp. We don’t have any non-ambulatory wheelchair users, so I’m less worried about the bathrooms, but I have two relatives in their mid-to-late eighties. We’ve considered getting an ambulance service to come do a carry-up/carry-down (two people with a handled chair to literally carry the two people up the stairs and then down after), but it feels inconsiderate and would draw a ton of attention, even if we tried to have them enter through a different entrance–it’s a small area and an ambulance will be hugely obvious. Ultimately, as I’m writing this, it seems like it should be a no-brainer to go with a different venue, but I wanted to see if folks have done an assisted alternative to stairs like this.

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