Nothing should outshine a bride on her wedding day, including her disability! Both my husband and I are wheelchair users. Once the proposal had time to sink in, we delved right into wedding planning. We knew that it would take some major creative thinking to plan everything, from finding the perfect dress, to locating an accessible venue and planning the honeymoon.
There are very few examples out there for people with disabilities who are planning a wedding. Disabled brides are not an image you'll find in any bridal magazine and we did not hire a wedding planner. So, we relied a lot on the internet to search for creative ideas and help us in the planning process. We didn't want concerns about accessibility to limit our choices. Online forums were a great resource for bouncing ideas off of other brides with disabilities who were facing some of the same wedding planning challenges.
Choosing the venue
Visiting the venue in person ahead of time is so important. We wanted to get married in our local church, which was nearly 100 years old. The old construction posed some challenges, including how we were going to make our grand entrance and exit, and how some of our guests with limited mobility were going to be able to access the building. Luckily, the side elevator provided easy access for our guests. My husband and I were able to enter early to get ready in the bridal and groom suites which were on the same level as where we made our grand entrance. I chose to walk down the aisle with my crutches. We worked with our priest to have two stools waiting for us at the altar, so we could each sit during the ceremony without worrying about the bulk of our wheelchairs. After the ceremony, our bridal party helped us down to our wheelchairs to make our exit and head off to the reception.
Our reception venue took place in a lodge at a State Park. The lodge was a great choice because there were no stairs to worry about and it had a kitchen, dining area, accessible bathrooms and a big outdoor patio space so guests could spend time both indoors and out. It's very important to be as clear as possible with your venues. Even if they have experience working with other patrons with disabilities in the past, let them know exactly what you will need. Setting clear expectations up front will ensure there are no unexpected surprises and will help you find out how your these locations can best accommodate your needs.
Finding the Dress
Wedding dresses are not designed for a bride to be in a seated position. Try on several different styles and consider customizing your dress. This can mean having your dress made, or altering a dress to fit your needs, especially if you're going to be sitting in a wheelchair. I had thought that finding the dress was going to be my biggest challenge, but it turned out to be easier than expected. I knew I needed something that would look good both sitting in my chair and standing. A long train and lots of volume probably were not going to work with my chair. I did a lot of research online and through magazines, before visiting about three different stores.
I brought pictures of styles I was interested in. Being less than 4 feet tall made trying on dresses the most challenging. There was sometimes (what seemed like) an extra 10 feet of material on the floor, so I expected to have to look for a dress that fit on top and hem up the bottom to make the length fit. Luckily it's common for many brides to choose a second dress for the reception, so many bridal stores carry shorter, party-length dresses. I ended up finding a short dress which hit me perfectly at floor length. We got creative with alterations, adding straps and a small short sleeved bolero jacket. I was also able to find my veil, which was a shorter length, and shoes online. Etsy.com is a great resource for inspiration. Consider bringing a close friend or relative into the dressing room with you. It will make the experience of trying on dresses much more comfortable if you have someone in the room with you to help maneuver all the material as you try on dresses with your wheelchair.
A tailor is your best friend. Remember that you want your dress to fit you like a glove – whether you find a dress you love that can be tailored to fit, or have a dress custom made. Be careful not to let the train get caught under your wheels or let the material get too bunched up as with fuller skirts. Don't forget about the guys either. My husband had his suit tailored to make sure nothing was bunching or wrinkled while sitting in his chair. You'll be wearing your wedding garb for several hours on your wedding day, so you want to be comfortable and get the fit right.
Dress up your chair
Consider jazzing up your chair as well. My husband and I made signs to hang on the back of our chairs. One of us wore the sign that read "just" while the other one wore the sign that said "married". Some wheeler brides have even added a train or a flower bouquet to their chair. You want your chair to look as good as you do in your photos!
Party it up
Make the party your own. Husband and I are not much for dancing, so instead of having a traditional dance at our reception we hosted a dinner with catered barbecue and a reception with soft music in the background, drinks and dessert. It allowed everyone to mingle, visit, enjoy great food and company, and we turned up the volume toward the end of the night for those who wanted to dance.
We passed on the first dance tradition, but still did the traditional bouquet toss and cutting of the cake. It was also important to work with our florist to make a bouquet that I would be able to easily carry using both my crutches and that I could hold in my lap when in my wheelchair. Consider putting your bouquet on display rather than holding it. Don't be afraid to ask your wedding party for help if you want to incorporate many of the traditional wedding elements – that's what they're there for!
Remember, with a little creativity and a lot of patience, planning a wedding as an untraditional couple just might be easier than dealing with wedding party drama or crazy guests!