July is Disability Pride Month, and we're proud to celebrate the weddings of people with disabilities all year long. Not only do we have a huge archive of gorgeous accessible and disability-friendly weddings, we've also had helpful reader submissions on how to plan a disability-friendly wedding and tips for planning a wedding when your disability isn't visible.
So yeah, we've been featuring disability-friendly weddings, sensory-friendly weddings, and advice on planning accessible weddings since way back in 2008. But as weddings evolve, it's important to us to keep a pulse on the latest and greatest ways to make weddings disability-friendly.
Naturally, we thought it was best to turn to the experts and advocates of creating accessible weddings—our community of Offbeat Wed vendors!
If you're considering the needs of your guests with disabilities and want to ensure they're comfortable at your celebration, read on for advice from these offbeat wedding professionals.
Here's how to plan a disability-friendly wedding
We received so many great tips from our vendors that we had to break this post up into four categories:
- Venue accessibility
- Accessible seating
- Sensory-friendly tips
- Other accessibility concerns
Look, we weren't kidding when we said Offbeat Wed vendors know their stuff when it comes to inclusive and accessible weddings. There's a ton of great information here, so make sure you bookmark this post!
1) Venue accessibility
Accessible ceremony and reception areas for guests with disabilities that affect mobility
Whatever venue you have chosen, take note of the landscapes and groundscapes! If your wedding party or attendees have canes, chairs, or anything requiring surface-to-surface contact – go to the venue ahead of time and map out what works for all of them! Some places cannot be changed (example: a Renaissance festival might only have large benches that can't be altered or moved), but there might be spots or pathways that you can set up for disabled guests to safely walk (or roll) to see the wedding ceremony and reception. I’ve had many clients set up special areas for people in the front or the back of the ceremony so everyone can be a part of it!
If you have a venue that has a seemingly impossible accessible point, consider renting or accommodating your guests with personal scooters, chairs, or a golf cart to assist them to their seating. Some landscapes/venues can be on rough or aw ground that is very un-even! Communicate to all of your wedding party and attendees as best you can about the accessibility features and work together to find the best solutions!Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings
Consider creating a sensory-friendly space at your wedding venue
When booking or decorating a venue, try to create a calm time-out area for sensitive and neurodivergent guests. Somewhere preferably outside with plants or in a separate, smaller room. This should be a peaceful place to get away from the noise and recharge. NO MUSIC in there at all, please. Set up soft or dimmed lights and comfortable seating. Try to avoid offensive and bright colors in this space.
You can give this area a fancy (but understandable) name and put up some signs. Make it very clear that folks know where they can go to avoid sensory overload. Assign someone to look around this room regularly and keep it a safe space. But let us just be us there. Having a calm place to recharge can make all the difference.Christine Kipka of Kipkalinka`
Accessible parking is important for a disability-friendly wedding
If you have to trek from the parking lot (even if there are accessible parking spaces), that can be hard or impossible for some guests. If the ceremony and reception spaces aren't close together or require walking through grass or a bumpy trail, imagine how hard that might be for someone with mobility challenges. Even with all-indoor venues, many of them have stairs-only access to the whole space or critical parts of it.Cindy Savage of Aisle Less Traveled
I live near the mountains in Colorado. I work with a lot of out-of-state clients that come to Colorado to get married in the beautiful landscape. When clients ask me to help them choose a location for their photos, I like to ask them if they need to be close to parking or if they are okay with hiking on uneven trails. Marriers are often surprised and happy that I ask. I often get responses stating that Grandma can't walk well, so we need to be close to parking. Sometimes couples will tell me it's just the two of them and they would love to take a quick hike for a beautiful mountain view. There is a popular overlook where many people have their small ceremonies, but the path to get to it is unpaved and difficult for people using wheelchairs or canes.
I had another family come in from out of town with a child who has autism. They wanted a beautiful spot for photos that was close to the parking lot so they could quickly get him to the car in case he needed a break. He did really well at the photoshoot and didn't have any trouble, but his parents and grandparents felt better knowing that there was a safe respite (the car) close by just in case they needed it.Aeron Reinhardt Photography
We need to talk about bathrooms for a disability-friendly wedding
Most indoor venues are going to have an ADA-compliant bathroom, but you should also consider how far away that is from your ceremony/reception space. If you're lucky, outdoor venues might have permanent, accessible bathrooms. However, a lot of outdoor venues rely on restroom trailers, which are usually elevated and have a short flight of stairs.Cindy Savage of Aisle Less Traveled
2) Accessible seating at a disability-friendly wedding
The other big thing for accessibility is seating. This may be provided by the venue, or you may be renting chairs through your caterer, planner, or directly from a rental company. You're gonna want to see and, ideally, sit on the chairs to find out if they meet your guests' needs.Cindy Savage of Aisle Less Traveled
Here's what Cindy suggests to consider when it comes to accessible seating at a disability-friendly wedding:
- Make sure you have enough seating and that your guests will be comfortable in it!
- If you are planning for guests to stand during your ceremony, that's fine—but you need to have a handful of chairs for folks who cannot stand for more than a few minutes or at all.
- If benches are the thing for your ceremony, consider a row of chairs at the back. Some folks cannot sit for long without back support and will really appreciate having the option.
- If you are having a cocktail-style reception, I recommend having enough chairs for at least 60% of your guests.
- Make sure the chairs you have are suitable for a full range of bodies.
Sam of Dutcher Photography echoes this too:
Ask about the weight capacity for chairs that you're renting (or chairs that are available at the venue) and go for higher weight capacity chairs if you have multiple options, and avoid plastic chairs or chairs with arms if at all possible.Samantha Waldron of Dutcher Photography
3) Sensory-friendly tips for an accessible wedding
Offbeat Wed vendor Christine Kipka of Kipkalinka gave us this insight as a neurodivergent person with autism and ADHD:
Parties can be a living hell for us. Even more so, wedding parties, since there might be social obligations and expectations to adhere to.
Our needs can easily be overlooked since having a different brain configuration is not visible. We do like to be around people…until we don't, because it's getting too much.Christine Kipka of Kipkalinka
Here are Christine's tips for planning a disability-friendly and sensory-friendly wedding for guests who are sensitive, neurodivergent, or have invisible illnesses:
- Consider guests who would have a hard time coping with lots of people, noise, and expectations of specific behavior.
- In your wedding invitation, ask guests to let you know about any sound or light sensitivities. This can help you plan for seating. It's actually quite similar to asking guests questions about food allergies or dietary restrictions!
- Provide earplugs!
A lot of neurodivergent folks can experience sensory overload, and a crowded party with loud music can be a really unpleasant environment. Consider having a quiet(er) space for guests who might need a break from the full-volume party. This can be a great spot to add nerdy touches, like setting up your favorite board games or just giving your people a chance to indulge in less noisy, less crowded fun with things like lawn games, scavenger hunts, coloring books, or bounce houses.Cindy Savage of Aisle Less Traveled
4) Other accessibility concerns and special needs to consider
Talk to your photographer ahead of time if you have sensitivity to lights
I've had to get constant lighting to use at receptions for people with epilepsy. I cannot use my flashes because it causes a strobe like effect. The couple just had to tell me ahead of time so that I could rent the lighting.Daniella Koontz of Koontz Photography
Consider the mobility of your guests when planning for formal photos
If you have a family member who uses a wheelchair, ensure that you and your photographer work together to determine where to take family photos so that your family member can be included without undue hardship.Samantha Waldron of Dutcher Photography
Accommodations for new parents and kids at a disability-friendly wedding
If you've invited new parents, or if one of your vendors has recently had a baby, there's a good chance someone might need a private space to breast/chest feed or pump.
Parents might also appreciate kids' activities or an easy way to escape your ceremony without causing disruption if their child starts crying. Also, make sure your bathrooms have changing tables.Cindy Savage of Aisle Less Traveled
Plan a disability-friendly wedding from the very beginning — even if you don't think you'll have disabled wedding guests
It's also not infrequent that I hear from a couple that someone on their guest list just broke a bone or had an injury or surgery of some kind and now needs an accommodation that we didn't anticipate when booking the venue.Cindy Savage of Aisle Less Traveled
So it's ultimately good for everyone (including you!) if you plan as though you will definitely have guests that need all of the above; and it's going to be easiest to do that if you plan for it from the very beginning.
Hire an interpreter for guests who are Deaf or hard of hearing for the full day
A couple I worked with brought in their own interpreter so the soonlywed didn’t have to do it during her ceremony. You see, her profession was sign-language interpretation in the community, but the one thing she wanted was to enjoy her day and have someone else interpreting so that everyone saw what was going on!Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings
Her only piece of advice was to be sure and bring them in for most of the day, not just for the ceremony. There were a few events after her main ceremony where she had to do her own signing, and she would have wanted the help!
Plan a wedding that's enjoyable and accessible for guests of all abilities
By taking the extra step to ask your guests what accomodations they'll need, you'll be making a considerate gesture to keep them happy and comfortable at your celebration.
Y'all we had so many vendors give us great tips, we had to make a whole separate post on the topic of disability-friendly weddings! Stay tuned for a post on the best and worst chairs for an accessible wedding.