Confessions Of A Disabled Bride #1 ~ The beginning and an access checklist…

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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.

Nina Neon - Confessions of a Disabled Bride

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.


Annabel View all Annabel's articles

Founder of Love My Dress. Passionate Podcaster and Editor. Annabel lives in rural North Yorkshire with her husband and business partner Philip, their two daughters and menagerie of furry hounds. She loves photography, meditation, walking, being outdoors and star gazing. She is fierce when it comes to championing talent within the wedding industry and when she's not working on Love My Dress, she supports her husband Philip in the running of the family's sustainable flower farm and floral design business, Moonwind Flowers. In 2013, she became a published author.

34 thoughts on “Confessions Of A Disabled Bride #1 ~ The beginning and an access checklist…

  1. Really looking forward to reading the next article, can’t wait to see how many of the venues actually pass muster on the disable access.

  2. Hello,
    I’m getting married in the conservatory at the Barbican Centre in Central London in April and I think it’s got very good disabled access there – perhaps you could suggest it to Nina as a venue 🙂

  3. Hi Nina! Looking forward to reading more about your wedding planning, and like Kirstie Taylor, I would love to know more about your love story!

  4. Thanks for all the comments, ladies, and for your suggestions!! Off to see 4 venues now, hopefully that will give me plenty of material for next month!

  5. I’m SO pleased that you’ll be writing a regular feature, Nina.
    Prior to working in the wedding industry I spent 10 years working in the public sector (including working with OTs to provide adaptations to properties for people with access needs) and the vision of the world presented by (some but not all, clearly) wedding blogs and magazines does bother me as it really doesn’t reflect the diversity of the population and the fact that everyone’s needs are different.
    I hope this post and your others will help others in your position who are feeling overwhelmed at the start of their wedding planning journeys.
    Good luck with your venue visits. I hope you find ‘the one’.
    And, Annabel, thanks as always for using your blog to tackle real issues.

  6. Brilliant blog post. My stepfather is a paraplegic, so this is a subject very close to my heart.
    Gravel walkways, and no disbaled toilet a bugbear,should my sisters or I take the plunge, our venue choices would be very limited locally.
    The other area to look into for accesibility is the bridal suite.
    For very special occasions my parents stay at Le Manoir, their accessible suites are mindblowingly beautiful, something often lacking in disabled rooms.

  7. Wow what a wonderful post. Lovely to meet you Nina. I cannot wait to hear/read more about your wedding plans.
    I got married 5 months ago and found it tough finding a venue that would fit with my mum’s disability (she’s in a wheelchair). We really wanted a barn (what 18th century barn has disabled access?!) but we managed to find a great venue.
    The hardest part for me was dress shopping. None of the bridal shops I went too were large enough to fit a wheelchair through the door let alone have a disabled toilet or facilities. This really upset/angered me.
    I ended up buying a sample dress so that I could take it home straight away so my mum could see it.
    Can’t wait to read more x

  8. A great post Nina, I’ll be very interested to read the next chapter. We have a few guests in wheelchairs so had to think about this when looking at venues. We will also have a few evening guests who have Downs, Autism and ADHD and the staff at the hotel didn’t bat an eyelid when I told them. The same can’t be said for another venue we saw – needless to say we didn’t give them anymore of our time.
    Our disabled friends actually got married a couple of years ago, both bride, groom and bridesmaid are all wheelchair users but used walkers and sticks for the day. Generally speaking the function suite was fine but the patio area and path to the main garden were a bit dangerous, wobbly handrails, broken paving slabs, on which the bridesmaid fell over on. It didn’t put a dampener on the day – it was a lovely wedding but it was a shame that the bride and groom didn’t really have full access to what they had paid for, they couldn’t get to the nicest parts of the garden for photographs for example.

  9. thanks for sharing your experiences, Adeline. I find it disturbing that venues/shops etc. don’t realise that if they don’t access, the whole family and friendship group of the disabled person might be put off by this, and how many costumers it would gain them to provide access.
    The Dress is definitely an upcoming topic! Take care.

  10. Hi Carys, thanks for your comment! I think it is a very important question that each couple has to answer for themselves, just how much you want to focus on access on your venue search. I can understand that people don’t want to sacrifice their idea of a dream venue due to access restrictions, but they shouldn’t have to!
    on the list, I mentioned the ‘quiet area’, having people with ADHD, Autism, Downs, etc. in mind, but I’d be very interested to hear other ideas you might have on the topic. The attitude of staff is definitely an important factor, as you mentioned.

  11. thanks Laura! I think reactions here prove that it is definitely a relevant issue, and I think it’s amazing that there are websites like Annabel’s who don’t shy away from more serious issues but at the same time are really gorgeous and celebratory!

  12. Good point about the loop – my mother wears two hearing aids and so many places that ought to have it (cinemas, theatres) either don’t or say they do but it doesn’t work.

  13. This is really timely for me, as it was only recently that a friend with MS has had to be pretty much full-time in a wheelchair. We’ve realised we’re going to have to think really carefully about access at our venue, which is a working dairy farm where we’re bringing everything on site. I think the key for us will be having a dialogue with her about what she anticipates her needs to be rather than second guessing, for it might be that she would prefer to move to a standard chair to eat rather than a space for her wheelchair at the table etc. I am concerned about the toilets though, we’re hiring luxury loos which afaik are not accessible. Again we will have to talk to her and her husband well in advance about potential issues and how to remedy them, as I would hate for her to feel singled out or uncomfortable in any way on the day.

  14. We had a number of disabled and elderly guests at our wedding and these articles would have been so helpful. Luckily, our venue – Morgan’s Hotel Swansea – had everything we needed to keep our guests comfortable. However, it was quite hard trying to think of everyone’s needs. So, brilliant article Nina, thank you.

  15. Hi Vivi,
    I did a quick google search, and most places that hire loos also hire accessible loos, so it should not be a problem! I have to say that it is really awful to be somewhere where using the bathroom is not easy – it can really spoil the whole experience.
    I think it’s a good point you make – you should always talk to the disabled person in question about their access requirement – you could also show her this list and ask her which of those she requires.

  16. so many comments, thank you everyone for the great response. The venue hunting goes well, but we still got two to see next week. You’ll be able to read all about it next month!

  17. Interesting post! When we were looking for our venue we were expecting 2 wheel chair users, one of whom had a full time carer and electric chair.
    The Venues we had in the end did meet all of the criteria we had which were similar to yours unfortunately they’re not in central London otherwise I would recommend!
    Sadly neither guest could make it in the end but I do think this is an important issue that a lot of people won’t think about as it just not on their experience radar, so well done for raising awareness

  18. my mum has MS and my grandmother arthritis so we had to look carefully at our venues. The worst we saw had ‘disabled access’ which required disabled persons to walk around the outside of the building and half the garden to get from one end of the function room to the other and walk to.another building to use the disabled loo! The venue manager couldn’t understand what the issue was as everything could be accessed without any steps. Some empathy wouldn’t go amiss sometimes. We got married at a public art gallery and reception at a village hall and both were perfect for our needs.

  19. I was fairly unaware of the ‘real’ issues of having a disability until I started to work with a disability charity. It is a shame that awareness is often limited to those who have friends or family with disabilities or those that work/are involved directly in this area. As you point out, the attitude of some people who work in sectors where this should be a consideration high on their agenda is unacceptable. Some people have the belief that those with disabilities need to make the effort to be ‘normal’ when it is society that disables people, not disabilities. Perhaps you could begin a database of venues that are exemplars of equality and this could be contributed to by other brides who have experience of searching for such venues? Your list might be a good place to start to categorise the venues.

  20. I will do one or two articles where I write about venues with good access. hopefully people from other areas will then comment and tell us which venues they found to have really good access – because obviously, I can’t visit venues all over the country myself, and even with the London ones we looked at and will look at, we excluded certain categories of venues (like hotels, for example, as we wanted to have the place for ourselves), so my database is rather small and specific. But I do hope that maybe some kind of collaborative effort will make such a list possible.

  21. Hi Nina,
    I can’t wait to read the rest of your posts. I’ve had mobility issues since birth and only started using a wheelchair a few months ago. Strangely enough, since going into the wheelchair full time I actually feel less disabled as I’m not struggling to walk around anymore and I don’t get as tired as a result. Since getting together with my boyfriend a year and a half ago and since using the chair I can actually picture myself getting married without having to worry about things such as walking down the aisle or the first dance.
    I can’t wait to hear more about your wedding as your plans progress. Congratulations 🙂
    Eilean x

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