Published: Thursday, May. 6th, 2021
If you or your loved ones have a disability, you probably already know that many weddings and receptions are rarely planned with accessibility in mind. That’s why it’s even more important that your own wedding ceremony be inclusive, comfortable, and enjoyable for everyone in attendance!
We’ve gathered a few simple suggestions to get you started as you plan the big day. This guide includes tips for couples and guests who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, blind or visually impaired, those who use mobility equipment, or those who have sensory sensitivities or processing issues. These are some of the most common disabilities, but it’s far from a complete list.
As you create your wedding guest list, consider each person individually, and keep any special or unique needs in mind.
If you or anyone attending the wedding uses mobility equipment to get around, including a wheelchair, crutches, or a walker, be sure to choose an already-accessible venue. This will make planning a heck of a lot easier than trying to modify a space to suit your needs!
This means that you’ll probably need to reconsider any older historic buildings or outdoor venues that haven’t been renovated or designed with accessibility in mind. A quick search for ‘accessible venues in my area’ can usually bring up a few good leads.
If you don’t already have a perfect place in mind (such as someone’s accessible home or a favorite public space), visit several venues in person before making a decision. Ask the staff what types of accommodations are available, and make sure they have experience helping guests with special mobility needs. Check for ramps, wide doorways and halls, elevators, aisle and altar access, accessible bathrooms, dressing rooms, and areas for seating during the ceremony, group photos and a receiving line.
About the ceremony above: When Matt and Shannon asked Matt’s dad, AMM Minister Andrew (Andy) Brasfield, to perform their wedding ceremony, he was thrilled! The couple chose to host the special event at their Tennessee home, and because the space was already designed with wheelchair accessibility in mind, it made for a perfect venue.
Andy says, “It was a beautiful outside ceremony with lots of love and laughter in the air. The weather was perfect. The groom was nervous! That part was so amazing because Matt is not the nervous type. You could see the emotions on his face when the bride entered... I thought he was going to knock her over kissing her like he did!”
See more photos of the happy day on our Wedding Wall.
For Deaf or hard of hearing folks, an ASL interpreter or a wedding officiant who’s fluent in sign language will make speeches, vows, music performances, and other meaningful moments much more enjoyable!
Certain venues may have a list of local sign language interpreters they’ve worked with during past events, but you may need to broaden your search online. You can ask for recommendations at local speech and hearing centers, interpreter referral services, interpreter training programs, and Deaf schools and organizations. Even better, wedding officiants who are fluent in ASL, or BASL (BSV), will likely include it in their professional bios, making them easier to locate.
Reserve seats up front for Deaf and hard of hearing guests so they’ll be able to clearly see the interpreter, or have an easier time understanding what’s being said. Use a standing or lapel mic if you’re in a space with a lot of background noise to help the guests that are hard of hearing.
For folks who are blind or visually impaired, an event that embraces all of the senses will provide the best guest experience. Consider hiring a live band or DJ, and include special readings, music, and descriptive language in your ceremony script. If there will be flowers or greenery, choose arrangements that are aromatic (such as roses, honeysuckle, rosemary, or lavender), but not overwhelming.
You might also want to create braille invitations, table settings, and menus to make all parts of the wedding day more inclusive. You can even purchase a braille printer yourself, if you want to take the DIY route.
When deciding on a venue, choose one with braille placards at the entrances to frequently visited rooms, such as restrooms and dressing rooms. A venue that’s well-lit with full spectrum or incandescent lighting will be easier for those with visual impairments and limited sight to navigate.
For couples or guests with disabilities that come with sensory sensitivities, such as autism (ASD), a quiet space to go and reset can be a necessity at high-energy social events.
Quiet spaces should be separated from other areas of the event, such as a quiet hallway or corridor with chairs, an otherwise unused room, or an area of a yard or garden reserved for silence.
Offering a detailed plan of what to expect is also helpful in eliminating surprises on the day of the wedding. Creating an itinerary with scheduled breaks to relax and reset between main events (such as the ceremony and the reception), a venue map that points out important areas (including quiet spaces), and an explanation of any group activities or unity rituals, can help ease any anxiety associated with a social gathering.
If you or a loved one will be joined by a companion animal at the celebration, be sure to choose a venue that’s ok with animal guests! Venues are generally required to accommodate service animals, but beloved dogs, cats, and other animal friends without this specific legal designation might not be welcome.
Ceremonies and receptions that include pets are more popular than ever (because they’re a ton of fun) so you’ll have no trouble finding inspiration online. We recommend you start with our useful tips on the topic first:
This guide is only intended to get you started down the planning path, and one of the best ways to ensure your wedding is inclusive and accessible is to ask your guests what they need directly. This information will be infinitely valuable as you plan the perfect day.
‘Marriage equality’ (used broadly here to describe unrestricted access to marriage and all of its related benefits and securities for all people) is a big topic within disability communities. This is because although disabled individuals are legally allowed to marry, they can encounter several financial barriers and deterrents when it comes to marriage, including the risk of losing needed income and health benefits.
At AMM, we think it’s important to reflect on the unique experiences of all of our intersecting communities, share ideas, and encourage conversations that address common barriers to marriage.
To read more on this topic from voices within the disability community and PWD movement, check out: A Simple Fix For One Of Disabled People’s Most Persistent, Pointless Injustices by Andrew Pulrang; Op-ed: Why, No Matter What, I Still Can't Marry My Girlfriend by Jordan Gwendolyn Davis; In Sickness and in Health: Cripping and Queering Marriage Equality by Sarah Smith Rainey; and Marriage Equality Is Still Not a Reality: Disabled People and the Right to Marry by Eryn Star.
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