One of the keys to the idea of “Universal Design” is that all of us benefit when things are designed to be easy to use, easy to access, and comfortable. This is especially true on a wedding day; you want all of your guests, including those with a variety of disabilities or with limited mobility for any of a number of reasons, to be able to participate fully in your day. Here are just a few of the ways you can think ahead and make your wedding a blast for the diversity of people who will attend your wedding.
1. Talk to Your Guests Personally
When you know that someone in your family or friend circle experiences the world differently than you do, it does make sense to reach out to the person themselves, or possibly a caregiver. Talk through what would make the day extra-special and as comfortable and positive as possible for that individual. You may have these conversations with multiple friends and family members, and you’ll often find that the requests are incredibly simple, but you might never have thought of them on your own. Since every individual with special needs is unique, asking them personally is a good way to get a real answer as to how to make the wedding truly accessible.
2. Ask About ADA Features of Your Venue Options When Choosing a Venue
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives organizations some clear guidelines that help to promote accessibility for all mobility types and levels. A venue that is up some flights of stairs without an elevator, for instance, will make attending your wedding difficult for quite a few people, not just those with documented special needs. As you look at your venue, see through both the lens of your dream wedding and the lens of how difficult it will be to navigate for your family and friends. Remember that accessibility benefits everyone: you will be grateful for wide, smooth paths, for instance, in your wedding heels!
3. Do a Walkthrough of Your Big Day from an Accessibility Angle
Think through the entire schedule based on the needs of your guests; this may sound overwhelming, but this can be a single evening of running through your schedule just one more time. Does this schedule allow for the accessibility needs of your guests? Could breaks be built in strategically that would help with any transportation challenges? The more you can make accessibility a normal part of your schedule, the more included your whole family and friend group will feel!
4. Ensure Features for Comfort or Lowering Stimulation
Especially in the case of loud music or outdoor weddings, anyone can find themselves overheated or overstimulated, and certain individuals with special needs are more sensitive to over-stimulation than other folks. Help everyone involved by ensuring there is a cool, quiet space where a guest or two can retreat if the heat outside or the pumping music become a little too much. If your guests have babies or young children, they will also be thankful for a spare room or cool tent where various young guests can take a break.
5. Designate “Noticers” Among Your Guests Who Keep an Eye Out
It is reasonable that you, on your wedding day, will be able to notice anyone who is uncomfortable or out of their element at your ceremony and reception. However, a good way to extend notice to all of your guests is to get a few bridesmaids, cousins, or dear friends on board as “noticers.” This simply means that they will be alert throughout the wedding to anyone who appears uncomfortable, lost, frustrated, or confused and will offer assistance. Sometimes, just a friendly chat can help to resolve an issue, or can help to connect your guest with whatever he or she needs, and your noticers can make sure this happens promptly.
6. Make the Important Wedding “Events” Happen Reasonably Early
While you certainly don’t have to, it is a kindness to many different groups of guests to cut the cake or finish the general festivities reasonably early in the evening. If you and your guests want to boogie all night long, that’s great! However, making it clear that guests are free to turn in for the night after they’ve had an early-evening sweet treat is a kind way to allow those who have enjoyed your wedding but are now exhausted to duck out. Making all the key moments happen within just a two- or maybe three-hour period might be helpful to a group of your guests.
While these general pieces of advice may help, one of the best ways to ensure your guests feel truly seen and welcomed is to talk to them personally and ensure them of how much you appreciate their presence at your big day. You can make people feel welcomed and loved through your care and planning, but also through your personal attention.