I recently attended weddings for two wonderful young couples. Both affairs were beautiful and joyful, though very different. One was a rustic event in the country, and the other a formal affair held at an old courthouse in the city, each spectacular in their own way. Guests raved about the careful attention to detail to the menu, music and elaborate decorations, all of which added a great deal to the events. Both couples felt extremely fortunate to have grandparents and great-grandparents in attendance. So, you might ask, what’s the problem? The one important detail overlooked was comfortable accessibility for the guests with mobility issues.
Example 1: The Rustic Wedding in the Country
The vows exchanged on a hilly piece of property with miles of stunning greenery as the backdrop were lovely. Folding chairs were set up for the guests on two sides of the bare aisle on the ground. The party following the ceremony was located about a mile away on the same property. The tables, chairs and dance floor were set up under a tent and dinner was served buffet style. The bride and bridesmaids wore flat shoes, but the guests were not advised and those with heels, canes and walkers struggled to get to their seats.
Parking for both the ceremony and the party was troublesome. Limited space was available and none of the spots were labeled handicapped. The walk from the lots to where the festivities took place were long and difficult. The young (and able-bodied hosts) unfortunately did not consider the challenges of the landscape when planning the wedding, which is a very common oversight.
The effort for some of these guests to travel to the event was considerable, and they continued to face difficulties once there. Many of these individuals were quite elderly and clearly exhausted by the end of the evening.
Example 2: The Formal Wedding in the City
The ceremony for this wedding took place right outside the facility on a magnificent summer day. Passerby’s stopped to smile as the happy couple exchanged their vows. Parking was great – easy and close.
The challenges began after the ceremony. The party was held on the second floor of the old courthouse with no elevator available. Getting up a tall staircase was required to get to the celebration. We were able to get upstairs with some difficulty and were happy to find comfortable chairs well spaced around the exquisitely decorated tables when we arrived. Later in the evening we needed to find a restroom. We were surprised to find the only one available was on the first floor.
Older buildings tend to present accessibility issues. Understandably, not every small business can afford to make expensive renovations, and it is not required if the facility was built before 1990. These businesses are obligated only to provide “reasonable” accommodations. An elevator is an expensive addition to an old building and the business may have budgetary constraints.
How to Create an Accessible Wedding
As the hosts, you should not only plan your day to reflect your personal tastes, style, and preference, you should accommodate your guests as well. Just as you might offer a vegetarian choice to a vegan guest if you are serving prime rib, consider framing your plans around the physical limitations of your friends and family. This extra thoughtfulness is greatly appreciated whether your college roommate is temporarily on crutches or your grandmother is in a wheelchair. Below are some tips on how to accommodate those with mobility issues.
- Choose your venues carefully. Make sure to physically check the accessibility of your venue before booking. Many venues classify themselves as being wheelchair-friendly when, in fact, they may not have accessible restrooms, for example. This includes ceremony, reception and hotel if applicable.
- Consider holding the ceremony and reception at the same location. An example might be a country club or hotel where the room is used for the ceremony, then transformed for the party. This makes life much easier for the elderly and disabled. The less work required, the better.
- Reserve seats next to aisles for guests in wheelchairs or on crutches. However, allow these guests to sit where they are most comfortable.
- Set one less chair at a table where a guest in a wheelchair will sit. Try to leave room between tables for a wheelchair to negotiate and fit comfortably for a meal.
- Transportation and parking.If “handicapped parking spaces” are not available, allocate a few near the entrance to the site and/or valet parking. If the individual does not drive, try to arrange transportation with another guest.
- Find out in advance if special provisions are needed. Talk lovingly with the individual prior to their arrival about arrangements that will need to be made. It might be better to consult a family member who can fill you in if you suspect the intended person may be embarrased or think his/her presence will create problems for you.
With so many details to consider when planning an affair, it is easy for those of us who do not have mobility issues to forget to provide accommodations for those who do. Your wedding day is a big deal not only for you, but for your loved ones as well. Make the extra effort to ensure comfort and enjoyment of your guests!