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The Dos & Don’ts of Disability Wedding Planning

Wedding Resources

According to the CDC, 1 in 4 Americans have a disability that impacts a major part of their life. To ensure that everyone at your wedding feels comfortable and welcome, it's important to consider that some might benefit from accommodations.

Whether you, your partner, a parent, a member of your wedding party, or one of your wedding guests would benefit from accommodations, there are a few guidelines you’ll want to keep in mind when planning a disability-friendly wedding.


Don’t make assumptions

The first rule of thumb when it comes to planning an accessible wedding is simple: even if you think you know who has a disability and who doesn’t, you might not know for sure. Why? A great number of disabilities are invisible, meaning that you can’t detect them just based on looking at or speaking with someone.

Neurodiversity** includes conditions like ADHD and autism, and some mental health conditions such as OCD, depression, or anxiety, which are not always visible but may require accommodations. However, a guest may also have any number of health issues like chronic pain that don’t present themselves in an obvious way. All of these conditions may require accommodation in ways you may or may not anticipate.


Do open lines of communication

Since there’s no automatic way to know who might need accommodation on your special day, opening lines of communication is crucial. A great first step is to include a space for disclosures on your RSVP cards so that guests can share their needs if they feel comfortable doing so.

It still may be worth creating an anonymous stream of communication for anyone on your guest list who doesn’t feel comfortable disclosing their disabilities, as you definitely shouldn’t expect anyone to share sensitive information. For example, if someone has a question about bathroom accessibility due to a chronic illness, they might not feel 100% comfortable asking you directly but it’s still important that their concern is addressed.

You’ll want to try your best to disclose any relevant information about the potential need for accommodation upfront. Examples of this include disclosing the use of flash photography or transportation needs. If your guests will need to travel on foot over hills and slopes, put it on the invite. If there will be shuttle buses, note that these can be particularly difficult for wheelchair users.


Don’t assume that vendors will be disability-friendly

It’s no secret that not all vendors are alike, and you definitely shouldn’t expect that any given vendor will know how to skillfully navigate accessibility issues.

 

Do ask vendors questions about flexibility early on

From the venue to videographers to caterers, ask questions early on to gauge their ability to be flexible.

For the venue, you might ask:

1. If they’re ADA-compliant—and if it’s a hotel, how many ADA rooms do they offer?

2. Are the bathrooms on the same floor where the events are being held? Are the restrooms big enough? Are there bars?

3. Are there working elevators? How many, and how big are they? Big enough for a specialty wheelchair?

4. Is there a ramp to enter and exit the building? Are there automatic door openers?

5. Will they support additional equipment or seating? Are the tables the right height for a wheelchair?

6. Do they allow service animals?

7. Do they have a valet or accessible parking?

For caterers, ask how they handle dietary restrictions and allergies. Do they typically accommodate going off-menu or unique requests?

For photographers and videographers, ask if they use video captions, alt-text, image descriptions, and content warnings for hard-of-hearing or deaf people. How do they handle mobility or energy level restrictions?


Don’t other your guests

For many, this one’s a no-brainer, but it never hurts to have a refresher. It's important to use inclusive language and avoid any actions that might make guests feel singled out or othered.

For example: maybe your partner’s cousin is on the autism spectrum, but they’re only open about it with family. If your partner disclosed their autism diagnosis to you but you’re unsure if the cousin knows about the disclosure, it’s best to handle the situation as delicately as possible. You may want to have your partner ask them if they need any accommodations, or find a more subtle, indirect way of asking (like including a space on the RSVP card).


Do check in to gauge your guests’ needs

However, in situations where you’re confident the guest in question is comfortable, you absolutely can and should check in to ask about their needs directly. Just make sure to address them in an empathetic and human way.

What’s helpful for one guest could be the opposite of what’s helpful for another, so refer back to our previous point about keeping communication lines open! Asking a guest directly about their accommodation needs can help prevent you from making inaccurate assumptions.

For example, it may make the most sense to place hard-of-hearing or deaf guests near the action for the ceremony and reception. But if that puts them too close to speakers, this could cause reverberations on their hearing devices. In these cases, just ask what’s preferable!


Don’t feel too bound to tradition

When approaching accommodations, it’s important to keep things in perspective. It’s your big day, and you deserve to have the celebration you’ve always wanted. But what’s more important to you: getting exactly what you imagined or allowing the people who matter most (yourself included) to enjoy your celebration fully?

Compromise is key when looking to have the wedding of your dreams and accommodate your guests. Be aware that some accommodations may require you to be a bit flexible with your expectations.

Do be flexible with your expectations

When dress shopping for your wedding party, keep in mind that someone may have an easier time with two-piece fashions instead of a single garment, and magnetic closures may be more comfortable than side clasps. They also may require a little extra time to get ready, so you might allow them to get their makeup and hair done first.

If you’ll be using a wheelchair, wedding dress shopping may present a unique challenge. In addition to exploring two-piece options, a shorter or tea-length wedding dress tends to be a popular choice.

Or maybe someone in your party could use visual or tactile cues to help show where they need to walk during the ceremony. Though it might not look super pretty on the day, these can be photoshopped out of photos and are enormously helpful for those who need them. Skipping decor like low-to-the-ground florals to keep walkways clear is another compromise worth making.

You might also reconsider using strong fragrances and flashing lights if you have sensitive guests, or the use of smoke machines for guests with lung-related illnesses.

Adjust or pivot from your original vision and get creative. If you're accommodating guests who are deaf, wedding ideas specifically tailored to visual elements may be worth exploring. If you’re accommodating guests who are blind, focus on unique and exciting auditory elements.


Don’t forget to plan for extra costs

Once you have an accurate idea of what accommodations you may need on your wedding day, don’t forget to revisit your budget. While many accommodations are free, some may end up costing extra. (Remember: having happy and healthy guests is priceless!)

Note: we offer free braille engravings! Simply reach out to help@hiholden.com to confirm engraving possibilities.

The Dos & Don’ts of Disability Wedding Planning

 

Do budget accordingly

Things you’ll want to budget for may include (but are not limited to):

1. A sign language interpreter for your deaf friends (not just for important moments, but also to mingle and assure they get their needs met)

2. Supplementary communication (such as braille correspondence or auditory communication for blind wedding guests, and printed programs with transcriptions or digital/text communication that’s compatible with screen readers for deaf wedding guests)

3. Additional plus ones (some guests may require them!)

4. Ushers to help guests to their seats or the bathroom, and assist with maneuverability

5. Additional seating (that’s comfortable and accessible for all bodies)

6. Specialty transportation

7. Sensory friendly wedding break rooms for neurodivergent guests, expecting mothers, or anyone who’s feeling overwhelmed

8. Things like fidget toys, earplugs, or weighted blankets that can be helpful for guests with autism (wedding ambience can be quite loud and overstimulating)

9. Any other additional equipment that may be required

Remember, accommodations should always be tailored to individual needs. Open communication with your guests can help ensure that all necessary adjustments are made.

 

While we wrote these tips to be as comprehensive as possible, there are a few last expert resources we’d love to share in case you’d like to do more research on your own:

1. Wedding Planning for Spoonies by Meara Bartlett

2. Unmasking Autism by Devon Price

3. ADA Checklist

4. The ADA National Network’s “A Planning Guide for Making Temporary Events Accessible to People With Disabilities

 

**Note: While we use the CDC definition of 'disability,' which includes neurodivergent conditions, we acknowledge that many neurodivergent individuals do not view themselves as having a disability. We strongly encourage respecting and honoring all individual distinctions as it pertains to language preferences.

 

Questions? Give us a shout at help@hiholden.com or a ring (pun intended) at   646.722.6817.

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