Organizing a wedding that considers the potential accessibility needs of your guests could easily be dismissed as additional stress to a day that in the planning stages, will no doubt have many. However, creating an accessible environment for your guests while considering their individual needs is simply a win-win situation. It not only guarantees the comfort and safety of your turnout; thereby eliminating potential disasters occurring during your big day, but it also sets a good example for other grooms and brides-to-be. Making some simple adjustments to your wedding plans will encourage other event planners to follow suit, and from this effort, we might hope to see fully accessible ceremonies become the standard.
To give you an idea of where to start, we have compiled some of our top tips for planning an accessible wedding.
Talk to your guests
Approaching the subject might seem difficult or awkward, but it’s more than likely that any disabled guests you have will appreciate being asked about potential adjustments they may need, and more than often – as some people with disabilities feel like they don’t want to be a burden, will ignore bringing the topic up to you themselves, so it’s always best to be the first person to broach the topic. It can be as simple as asking if they require any adjustments, rather than bringing explicit attention to any disability they might have. Of course, if you know a guest will require wheelchair access, then some of these adjustments will be a given.
But disability has a large spectrum, and you might be inviting some neurodiverse guests who are light-sensitive or even someone who is deaf who might require an Induction Loop on-site to clearly hear speeches during the ceremony. Asking these questions is especially important when inviting guests you know less than others. And nobody is a better authority on their needs than the guests themselves. It’s also worth including a line on your invites, such as, “Please let us know if you have any access needs or other requirements”.
Choosing a Venue
Choosing a venue is a naturally exciting and important part of anyone’s big day, but it’s crucial that access is a consideration when you’re shopping around, so be sure to have questions at the ready for coordinators when visiting different venues. Although there might be some obvious ones like whether there is wheelchair accessibility, the questions will depend entirely on the needs of your guests. As mentioned, it could be anything from checking for wheelchair access through the building (many Churches and places of religious worship are still not up to date in this respect), to other important considerations such as accessible toilets, accommodation, pathways, lighting options, parking, and transport. And after you’ve booked, keep your venue in the loop about any requirements thereafter so you can enjoy your wedding in the confidence that everyone attending will be happy.
Food is perhaps the third most vital element of wedding planning beyond the ceremony and choosing a venue. While most couples are considerate enough to ask guests about allergies, intolerances, and diabetic requirements, conditions such as Crohn’s and Coeliac disease might also prevent certain guests from eating specific foods. Gather dietary information from your guests and ask the caterer to know in plenty of time what alternative dishes (equally as enjoyable!) can be provided to your guests.
If any of your guests have an assistance animal like a guide dog, check what they will need to cater for their canine, such as providing easy access to drinking water throughout the day.
Easing guest anxiety
It is an unfortunate fact that more people than ever experience clinical anxiety. This can extend to nervousness about venturing out to a town, street, or building, they are unfamiliar with, or simply being around other people they aren’t familiar with. More than often, guests are just as nervous about wedding ceremonies as those directly involved in the day! For this reason, we would strongly recommend, in addition to providing the location of the event beforehand; a detailed itinerary with a Q and A section, directions to the venue, and direct communication with guests where possible. This will ultimately help everyone at the event feel more confident about what to expect on the big day.
Where possible, check with guests to make sure that they can be seated with those they are familiar with to ease potential anxiety. In addition, save spaces for wheelchair users in the ceremony room when arranging seating plans and always provide enough space. I myself attended a wedding recently with just about enough space for everyone, but the room itself was incredibly tight and probably not the safest place to be in a post-Covid world. Visually impaired guests may also need assistance getting to the ceremony room and finding a seat. This would be your ushers’ time to shine, so let them know about any access requirements beforehand. If you’re having a drinks reception, have ample seating available for those who may not be able to comfortably stand that long. And place those with hearing impairments closer to the front if you are not providing hearing loops on site.
Planning alternative lighting options to the staple of bright lights bouncing off of white walls at weddings is a vital consideration for visually impaired, autistic, or epileptic guests. Take the time to learn if certain lighting setups cause discomfort or agitation among these particular guests, while also checking if the flashing, colorful lights typical of most evening receptions are the best idea for those with light-sensitive eyes. This would also apply to the flashing lights of cameras. So if a flash causes discomfort to anyone, be sure to inform your photographer well in advance to avoid shooting with the flash on!
Facilitating a Quiet Space
As exciting as a wedding is, it can be exhausting for many. See if your venue has a quiet space your guests can use if they want a break from socializing. This will help those who may feel overwhelmed, and chances are, many of your guests will appreciate it.