9 tips for a disability-friendly wedding (…especially when you’re not visibly disabled)

Guest post by Phantomssiren
My husband and me on our Halloween wedding day.
My husband and me on our Halloween wedding day.

Unless I'm moving around, none of my disabilities are particularly visible — impaired hearing, nerve damage, chronic fatigue, social anxiety, plus various joint and muscle injuries don't really stand out. However amongst our guests we had lots of friends and relatives with health issues of varying degrees and severity; Parkinson's, paralysis, Autism, Crohn's diseas, and Multiple Sclerosis being some of the more severe. We chose our venue and all the details of the day based on what would make everything as comfortable as possible for everyone invited.

For example: We kept the ceremony short, with only one reading so people wouldn't have to sit for too long. We trimmed the photos down so no one would have to stand outside in the cold for longer than necessary. We chose a menu that most of our guests could eat (though it included things I couldn't eat myself), and ensured that the hotel catered to all the allergies we'd been told about in advance. The reception had more seating than we needed so everyone had space, and we arranged for access to quiet areas outside the main room for those who wanted to retreat.

Unfortunately I pretty much forgot to take into account my own health. In hindsight, these are the things I learned or wish I'd have done at my own wedding…

  1. Insist on checking all the hotel facilities. The bridal suite might be lovely but if you can't physically climb onto the bed or use the bathroom you're going to have a lot less fun.
  2. Schedule plenty of breaks. Try to fit in twice as many as you think you'll need and start early in the day. Resting once you've already crashed isn't as effective as not crashing in the first place.
  3. Make sure you know what your medication can be mixed with and try to find alternatives just in case you accidentally end up drinking alcohol.
  4. Make a day-of kit with spare meds and anything else you might need (plasters, painkiller gel, etc.) and give it to someone trustworthy.
  5. Charge someone else with keeping an eye on the time. In the heat of the moment you might forget to eat for eight hours. It's easier if someone else reminds you of those things.

  6. Expect to explain yourself. People expect the bride and groom to float through the day serenely and if your guests are people you haven't seen for a while (or have never met) you're likely to get the “why are you limping/have a cane/wearing dark glasses/not making eye contact?” This is especially true if you have a chronic or invisible illness.
  7. Make sure your officiant really understands your condition. In the UK you often don't get to meet the officiant until just before the ceremony. I didn't properly explain my need to lip-read and ended up swinging my head around like I was at a tennis match.
  8. Double your worst case estimates. We thought a room without lift access would be okay as long as we wouldn't have to climb the stairs very often. However due to finicky keys, we spent a lot more time traipsing back and forth.
  9. Try to make sure people know before they start drinking that you have physical limitations. I do love to dance, but I bruise very easily. The reception was mostly rock, metal and eighties, which resulted in a lot of exuberant dancing and I got thrown around a lot without the opportunity to decline. Over a week later I'm still covered in bruises.

For most posts about working with your disability on your wedding day, check our disabilities archive.

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Comments on 9 tips for a disability-friendly wedding (…especially when you’re not visibly disabled)

  1. Thank you so much for this post, it’s something I’d never thought about. And for me it two-fold, I am “invisibly” disabled and my birth-mom is in a wheelchair…totally bookmarking this!!!

    • Disability friendly wedding venues are so hard to find. Make sure you check for where the bathrooms are (given that your birth mom uses a wheelchair) – we went to a venue we liked only to discover the bathroom was down a flight of stairs and I couldn’t get to it on my own.

  2. Thank you so much for this post, even for brides without a disability there are some great tips on here. I had a total “oh yeah!” moment when I came to the tip about setting up quiet spaces for people who wanted to retreat for a moment. That’s a great idea for anyone/any party!

  3. Also – if you have visually impaired guests, please consider giving them more light at their table/making sure they’re seated so they can see the festivities!

    • The only problem with this is that some people with autism (such as me) have SPD and have very sensitive eyes and more light means worse for us.

    • Yes, very good point. Extra lights on the tables, or put them closer to the windows. Would a large print of the program etc be appropriate or is it better to ask?

      Similar applies to those with hearing difficulties, we’re a steelworking family and most won’t admit they’re losing their hearing so we had to be subtle about arranging things so everyone could hear.

      • Ask about the large print programs – I know I would be really touched if someone put that thought in when it was their wedding day – but I know some people who would probably feel it was unnecessary. Best thing to do is ask in your given situation!

        And I am also hearing impaired – fortunately, I have a hearing aid, so these days the most I have to do is ask the DJ to turn the volume down just enough that I can not have feedback in my ears. 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m about four months out from my own wedding, and I’m starting to consider these things both for myself (anxiety, fibromyalgia, etc) and several of my guests. Our venue is at a national park, which is kind of a challenge for creating quite spaces if the weather is bad. I’d be interested to hear any suggestions on this!

    • For the park, see if you can set up a secondary small tent, and label it as “someplace quiet to go if you want to breastfeed in private, have a more private conversation, or just need to retreat for a few minutes.” Or however you want to word it. Personally I’m just happy if there’s someplace I can rest my back with my feet up at the same time, but if I can do that in the quiet too and the seat isn’t hard as a rock? Even better.

  5. Thanks for this! My cousin has autism and I didn’t even think about a quiet space. This would help him tremendously.

  6. We had a disability-friendly wedding too, it was important to us that our day catered to the needs of our impairments but also to those of our guests. One of the things that we (and our guests) found really helpful was having an ‘order of the day’ instead of an order of service, so instead of just listing the readings and the music, our order listed everything, with the timings (and it was beautiful!). So it showed what time the service would start, when it would end, how long a break until the photos, how long a break until the next thing, when there would be food, when there would be snacks – it listed everything. This mean that guests who had to balance resting/medication or guests who had to balance toddler naps/feeding or local guests who had to pop home to walk their dogs could all plan much more easily. It also meant that no-one missed anything, anyone who took a break after the service was back for the photos and anyone who took a break after the meal was back for the speeches. No-one missed the confetti throwing, no-one missed the first dance, no-one missed the cake cutting. It worked really well and gave the guests a lot more control over how their day went, and how they could do most to balance their needs. The guests with physical impairments could rest, the guests with social anxiety related issues knew what to expect and when, the guests with autism had a piece of paper they could look at to know what was coming up next.

    It all flowed really easily, it was such a beautiful and easy day; everyone was laid back, no was was cranky or frazzled because they didn’t know if they could step out of a bit, or upset because they missed something important to them. It seemed to work beautifully for us, it made everything feel really easy.

    And it was such a beautiful thing to look at, and now acts as an amazing reminder of our day, because everything is in one place!

  7. Items 2, 4, 6, 8, and 9. <3
    My lady has chronic back issues, light sensitivity, and is low-energy. There will always be seating somewhere; also having several guests with physical issues of their own, so making sure there's seating for at least them, as well as large-print programs, and nearby bathrooms.
    Thanks for the tips, they're all really useful and should (and will!) be kept in mind for the day of the wedding.

  8. Didn’t really think about the light or noise at ours, my bad but there was areas away from the DJ/disco with seats.

    In retrospect should have re-roomed disco and asked for more chairs in drinks area.

    Ours had a lift and the loos and reception room were all on the same level.

    Avoided certain foods because of allergies but buffet seemed to go off ok.

    Our photographer did photos where he got everyone together to start with then sent them away so it was only the main ‘wedding party’ being inconvenienced. Really wished we hadn’t been outside for so long as I was freezing after that!

    Think about steps, location of toilets space to get wheelchairs in and out too.

  9. It’s hard to get the balance right but I almost managed to do this at my wedding recently (almost not quite!). I have a physical (neurological) disability. Some things that helped me and my Hubbie enjoy the day:

    1.My bridal party were long-time friends that know the ins and outs of my health issues so that meant I had a lot of support.

    2.Chairs during the ceremony and a pre-meeting with our celebrant who knew that fatigue was an issue and knew the signals for when I needed to sit down

    3. Having the ceremony and reception at the same venue and a hotel room helped. This meant I was able to have an hour or so rest back in my pj’s, while guests were enjoying snacks and drinks before the reception. No-one noticed and I felt recharged and got to dress up all over again which was fun

    4.An awesome photographer that answered questions about their willingness to include my walking stick and my needs into their photos ie the traditional wedding dip photo where the bride is leaning back and being kissed by the groom was not an option.

    5.Although its said to be less costly, keep DIY projects to a mimimum, sometimes its worth the cost of someone else doing things if at all possible, otherwise with a health condition you’ll get sick before the wedding from DIY stress. Or keep the DIY projects very simple.

    6. Simple things like web searches for the word disabled bride, I was amazed what I found and the ideas that flowed.

    7. Celebrating your differences not hiding them, a decorated walking stick was my best accessory.

    8. Newer venues may cost a bit more, but often have better disabled access, community halls that have been recently built could be a lower cost option than a wedding reception venue.

    9. A message on my cell phone a few days before the wedding, thanking people for their call but directing queries to my partner and also my man of honour, so that as the bride I didnt have to worry about all the pre-wedding queries.

    I was very aware of the needs of my guests/ bridal party i.e. my lovely bridesmaid is vegan and I had to find vegan hair and make up products. But I also had to remind myself that the number one priority was for me to be able to last the day and not get sick before or during the day if at all possible, so all our decisions were guided by this.

    We were also lucky, golf buggies were supplied part of the venue and this helped with transport for photos.

    Most of all chatting with people in your planning about how it might be a bit different as this then reduces the questions on the day. We pre-warned a lot of people we wouldnt be dancing alot but asked could they help out by dancing on our behalf.

    Hope this helps. I’m sure theres more things that we did to make for an accessible wedding for everyone but can’t remember it all.

    I still didn’t sleep the 2 nights before so if I had my time over would have gone and seen my doctor for a short term script for sleeping medication.

  10. Number 7 made me laugh because I’m partially sighted and I completely forgot about this before my own wedding

    I had to hold the marriage certificate form up close to double-check it on the day itself (no point in enlarging it really, since I’d read it before and it was just to check spelling or whatever) and the registrar, meaning well, jokingly asked whether I wanted to borrow her glasses. I jokingly replied that glasses didn’t work for me and I had a white cane instead (not in a mean way, just my stock answer) and I felt a little mean when she got all red-faced, but she laughed too, so it was all cool :-3

    Considering that all it caused for me was a funny moment that often happens with new people, it wasn’t bad, but I do hope that the registrar wasn’t worried about offending me! ^_^

    • Hehe, you’ve just made me realise that I don’t really have a decision with my glasses on my day! Without them I see blurry big outlines and nothing else unless get in close and I squint and frown. Not a good look!

  11. I was surprised to find many of venues not fit-out/catering to the many needs of my guests.I have finally found a venue that meets all of our requirements and been assured that the caterers are willing to adjust to our allergies. needless to say our buffet line will be ‘most allergic first’ to prevent cross contamination. Would of got married at home if I hadn’t found anything. Nothing was going to stop our closest friends and family being there by things such as stairs and too public

  12. We’ve got reminders on our website and invitations to let us know allergies, intolerances or religious limitations. We’ve got my mum walking around our venue with crutches and then with a cane ok , so hopefully no problems there. Didn’t think about the energy thing! Thanks! I have a endocrinological condition and my fiance has a neurological condition so we both suffer from excessive tiredness (particularly if our meds go wonky). Will have to make sure he keeps his phone on him for his tablet reminder and make sure I don’t start beeping at awkward moments too :-/. We need to assign hotel rooms for our guests too. Will have to make sure the slightly more frail relatives are on the ground floor. Thanks for all these reminders! It’s great we get to forget about our conditions but we really should plan for them too 🙂

  13. I totally hadn’t considered my conditions when planning my wedding. I have chronic Pain and back issues. I can’t stand for a terribly long time. Some days I seem fine and others I can’t get outta bed. I’ve been worried about that but I hadn’t considered adding time into my wedding to take much needed breaks. I had totally considered shoes that must be comfortable and making sure to bring enough medicine along for the day of. My venue does have an elevator and I have made sure to let everyone know about it on the wedsite.
    Thanks I’ve come away with things to consider that didn’t even occur to me.

  14. Thanks, this was really helpful. My fiance has albinism, (and so does his sister) so I already know that an outdoor wedding probably isn’t happening, and that outdoor pictures are going to either have him in sunglasses or are going to be skipped all around. we’re thinking about buying matching sunglasses for our wedding party. As far as large print on invitations or programs etc, I would just make them all large print.

  15. This is such an amazing post, not enough people think about this. I don’t have a disability myself, but one of my bridesmaids has epilepsy. I’m in beginning planning modes but I realized that I’m going to have to talk to my vendors about it so there are no triggers at the event. I have no problem with no strobe lights and less flashes from the photographer.

  16. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this! I have chronic lyme disease which comes with a whole list of ailments (for example, vertigo, anxiety, fatigue, light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, body pain, brain fog, confusion, all sorts of neurological crap…just to name a very few) and I have been so nervous about my wedding for reasons that no one I know personally really understands! I am so scared that on my wedding day I will wake up feeling like crap… because half the week I would consider “bad days” and the other half “good days”…and there is really nothing I can do to control which kind of day I will wake up to! I get really tired and overwhelmed and need to defuse.. a lot of these ideas have basically saved my wedding, because I would have never thought of them, I have just worried instead!!!
    To avoid people wanting to dance with me all night (plus fiance’s family doesn’t like to dance), I am having a mexican fiesta lawn game night… So, bocce, volleyball, croquet, horseshoes, polish horseshoes, cornhole, etc (any other game ideas welcome!). This way, I can play a game, dance, or defuse by walking off and having a drink or something?!
    Reading this article and all of the comments made me come up with another idea that could totally work!! What about setting up a “hookah lounge”!? Set up a small tent with at least one hookah in there, some sort of comfy seating, even if its just a few bails of hay with blankets over them… some mood lighting.. voila! A great place to cool off, and enjoy some hookah if you would like! I have never done hookah, but I can imagine it would be very relaxing! Even if you dont want to take a hit, just go in the little space to chill (I have a LOT of autistic like symptoms.. and I know that a darker, non-stimulating and more quiet room away from people would be just the ticket for me at least to calm the heck down!)… anyways… like I said, Thank you SOO SO SO much for posting this!! I am not so nervous anymore… I hate to say it, but I was feeling very alone with my worries, but you ladies have empowered me and reminded me I am obviously not the only one who is planning a wedding that has health issues and disabilities! Thank you! xoxo

  17. One: they look fantastic! That dress is stunning!

    And two: thank you so much for posting this!

    I have Fibromyalgia which falls under “invisible diseases” so this means a lot to me. Not all disabilities require a wheel chair and not all of them are visible to the naked eye. Fibromyalgia is very nasty, life changing, very painful to deal with, it doesn’t go away and there is no cute or real treatment for it.

    I can’t express enough how much this blog post makes me happy! This is great for anyone who have family or friends with certain needs! Thank you so much for posting it!

  18. Oh my goodness, yes! I’m lucky that my health problems are not too severe, but I’m glad I took preliminary painkillers and kept some on hand – standing for long periods of time (at this point, more than 30 min or so) leads to severe pain and being careful to take painkillers at the appropriate times and grab a seat whenever possible staved off collapsing into a fetal position halfway through the afternoon.

    I also made doubly sure to read tons of reviews about my online-purchased shoes with comfort in mind, plus going with a low kitten heel rather than a higher heel. Comfortable shoes are important for me (and I’m sure many others with chronic pain issues) – and I say wear crocs or medical shoes even if they’re not as stylish, if it means being on your feet is less miserable!

    Definitely important to handle health issues in advanced whenever possible. I’m really glad we could mitigate most issues by planning and being self-advocates. I’m sure most of our guests hardly noticed our precautions.

  19. Thank you for this article! I am Autistic with chronic pain and dietary issues. So many articles make me very nervous about getting through the day, even though I know what I need to get through life normally, I’ve never thought about some of this in the context of a wedding.
    This is extremely helpful!

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