Here at Love My Dress, as well as appreciating and sharing all the beauty that comes with weddings, we have an ethos of trying to open up discussions on issues that focus around the union of marriage and all the many layers of love, life and emotion that come with it. For the next 12 months, a new writer is joining our team. I don’t want to steal from her own personal introduction, but I would like to ask you to join me in welcoming her this morning and by supporting her journey as she plans and organises her September 2013 wedding. Over to you, Nina…
Hello Love My Dress readers, I’m Nina Neon, and the lovely Annabel has invited me to write a series of articles for her website, as two weeks ago I got engaged (woohoo!) to my wonderful boyfriend Bob. I was born with a disability and have a mobility impairment as a result, so I use a wheelchair most of the time.
My monthly articles for Love My Dress will cover as many aspects as possible on how to organise a wedding if you are a disabled bride or groom, but also talk about how to make your wedding more accessible for disabled friends and family. I also got my own blog, Sparkle Wheels, which is about disability in the arts and the media, an area I am currently doing a PhD in.
Two weeks ago, my boyfriend Bob got on his knees to hug and kiss me, like he does every day. This time, however, he wouldn’t get back up after a cuddle, but instead produced a beautiful ring out of his pocket and asked me to be his wife.
I was, and still am, filled with butterflies, joy and excitement. We both decided we would love to get married next September and immediately started searching for a venue. Most of the venues we looked at online (all in central London), said they have disabled access. However, ‘disabled access’ is a very loose term: Every disabled person has her or his own specific access requirements or things s/he is uncomfortable with. The disabled access blind or Deaf people require can be very different from a wheelchair user, and wheelchair users themselves come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and chairs. Apart from stating that they have ‘disabled access’, almost none of the venues offered any further explanations, so I decided to phone up all 10 venues that we liked and to arrange viewings with them – in terms of access, seeing is believing. My experience has shown me that some non-disabled people might think a ramp with a 45 degree gradient is perfect, and that any lift, no matter how small or how infrequently it works, makes for stellar disabled access.
On the phone, about two thirds of the venues seemed completely laid-back and relaxed about the idea of a disabled bride using their venue, which was a very positive surprise to me. A few of them gave me the impression that when I inquired about disabled access, they had my granny in mind, who would be fine not going out to the beautiful garden they had or being pushed through the kitchen to use the disabled toilet (I am not entering a steamy, messy kitchen in full makeup and a wedding dress!!). When I mentioned that I was the disabled person in question, and that there will be additional disabled guests, they became a bit less enthusiastic about hiring us their venue.
Nonetheless, Bob and I arranged viewings with 9 venues, and compiled a list of questions about access (along with questions about catering, staff, suppliers and everything else – our list is huge). I have made a checklist of those questions and things you might need to think about when seeing a venue. I was a bit overwhelmed by the beauty of some venues and was really glad I had a list to keep me focused on important factors. However, I hope this list will also be useful for non-disabled people who have close friends or family that are disabled.
Not all the questions are appropriate for every wedding or event, rather you should think about specific requirements you and those near to you have.
Please note that under the UK equality laws, access facilities that are installed at a venue NEED to work. If a venue has for example a lift that has broken down and they neglect fixing it within a reasonable time frame, it is a violation of the law.
* How can you get to the venue? Is there an accessible tube station nearby (probably not, as only 17% of all tube stations have full disabled access), or a bus stop? Is there blue badge parking nearby, or even better, does the venue have blue badge parking spaces you can use?
* Where are the disabled toilets? Do they work? Are they clean? Are they big enough to fit a person in an electric wheelchair plus a carer? Ideally there should be one on every floor and they should be
reachable without using too many lifts or having to go outside the building. Also make sure they have mirrors you can actually see yourself in if you are sitting in a wheelchair. Many places have mirrors that are hung too high or no mirrors at all in disabled toilets.
* If there are lifts, are they being checked and used regularly (especially stair lifts or lifting platforms, they tend to break down often)? What staff will be there on the day of the wedding to help if the
lifts are giving trouble? Is the lift big enough to fit several kinds of wheelchairs, and how long will it take to bring everyone up- and downstairs?
* How complicated is the venue layout? Are there many different levels, or narrow corridors and doors that might be difficult for disabled people (especially if they wear a big dress)? How heavy are the
doors? How flexible is the layout, especially the width of the aisle?
* If the venue says they will provide ramps, ask them to see the ramps NOW. If they can’t produce them, how can you be sure they will be there on the day, that they are not too steep or otherwise unsafe?
* Is there an accessible changing room for the bride/groom if they need it? Is there a room where guests can relax and escape the noise, music or drunk relatives if they want to?
* Is there a way to make the bar low enough for disabled people being served comfortably? If they lay down a dance floor or other kinds of flooring, will there be a step to get on it?
* If you have Deaf or hearing impaired guests, is there an induction loop system? Will you provide a BSL interpreter, and where will they stand during the ceremony?
* Does the venue allow assistance dogs?
This is everything I could think of, but by no means a complete list, and if someone else has suggestions on what to add, we would love to hear them! On a personal note, I think it is important to think about those questions, but not making them the sole focus – you don’t want to end up with a venue that has perfect access but does not live up to any of your other expectations.
Coming next month:
My experiences of seeing the venues in person and our reasons for picking a specific venue!
Nina Neon was born with a disability and has a mobility impairement. She is engaged to her fiance Bob and they are due to marry in September 2013. Nina will be writing a monthly article for Love My Dress to document her expeirences of planning and organising a wedding, from a disabled brides point of view. Nina writes her own blog, ‘Sparkle Wheels‘. We’d love for you to support Nina on her journey by leaving her a comment below.