Accessibility is paramount anywhere, but the last place you want to face inaccessibility is your wedding day. So, for ‘love month’, we hear from wheelchair user Tori about how she planned solutions to workaround and enhance her wheelchair, making her wedding day as accessible as it was perfect.
Weddings themselves are undoubtedly one of the most stressful times in any couples’ relationship. But dreaming up a perfect day that works seamlessly around a disability adds a whole new challenge. As with most aspects of my life, a little forward thinking and a team of dedicated friends and family ensured our wedding day was a beautiful celebration of love, respect and inclusion of my abilities.
I have spinal muscular atrophy type 2 and have been living with my able-bodied partner David for eight years. We met on MySpace long before internet dating existed. We have been exploring the world together ever since, one adventure at a time.
We have a team of live-in carers who enable me to be the person I want to be, leaving David to be nothing more than a doting husband. He’ll always assist me should I need it, but we try our best not to blur the lines to that of a carer and client. It’s a sustainable, refreshing and respectful way that we keep our relationship healthy.
We’d lived together, travelled together, bought and renovated a house together. So, in 2017, when David proposed after a carefree day at the Zoo, my heart completely burst with love. Words failed me for a few moments before David prompted me for a response. Of course, I said yes! I wouldn’t be the person I am today without his valued support and love.
Planning my accessible wedding
I promised myself that I wouldn’t jump into wedding planning. I would allow us to enjoy our time as a newly-engaged couple, as we knew that when we started the preparations it would be a highly stressful time. That did not happen! I threw myself in head first into the wonderful world of weddings.
Fortunately, David is laid back and allowed me to steer the planning, knowing that I would take every small detail into consideration. We had extra challenges to consider because of my disability. But we wanted the day to be a celebration of us, not a day that was obviously altered around a medical condition. Together, we highlighted the main areas that we thought we would need to pay specific attention to – the venue, the dress and the first dance.
There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted a summer wedding. I usually hibernate during the icy winter months and live for the summer. Me being cold, which can lead to pain for me, and therefore having to be wrapped up in hundreds of layers on our wedding day, was not an option.
I had to be warm, and pain-free, and nothing was going to change my mind. So this decision was set in stone from the very beginning, even if we had to save longer to afford a summer price tag.
Finding an accessible wedding venue
We started viewing venues early on, as I was concerned that finding an accessible venue would be challenging. We live in a beautiful part of South Devon, so our venue options were in abundance. We wanted a relaxed and bohemian wedding, full of natural light and open spaces. But, above all, we wanted somewhere that was accessible in the day and that enabled me to stay on site.
I was keen on this from the get-go for two reasons. Firstly, it meant that we didn’t need to find accessible transportation, which we all know can be tricky in itself, especially if you’re looking for something stylish. Secondly, and most importantly, it meant that I could be truly free on my wedding day knowing that I could pop to the loo as much as I needed to as I had my complete set up with me.
However, this wasn’t easy to find. As you’re probably all very aware, full accessibility and period country houses do not often sit hand-in-hand. Our shortlist of 10 possibilities was quickly cut to four when we discovered that bridal suites in stately homes are generally inaccessible.
We also disregarded some because the accessible entrances were to the rear, or through the kitchen. I did not want to spend my day as a bride using a segregated entrance. I wanted to be right there in the heart of all our loved ones.
Muddifords Court Country House caught my eye online and, from the moment we visited, I fell in love with it. It had all the charm and beauty of a country house, and ticked all of the accessibility boxes for my needs without having hefty ugly adaptions. It was perfect.
The ceremony barn was on site; there were ramps onto decking platforms that were in-keeping; the dining hall was large enough for me to manoeuvre around the guest seating; there was enough accommodation for our long-distance guests and camping options for locals; it was dog friendly, and there was a beautiful little thatched roundhouse attached that was accessible enough for my needs as our bridal suite! And it was only half an hour from home – it really was our dream come true.
Choosing the perfect wedding dress
Being a designer, my wedding dress had to be different, to stand out and to work for my body shape within my wheelchair. The bridal shops were limited in terms of their accessibility and there wasn’t a way for me to use my mobile hoist. But we worked around it and just tucked the dressed down as much as possible. Despite the workarounds, I had so much fun with my mum, bridesmaids and PAs trying on a huge variety of gowns.
I instantly fell in love with my feather gown, and still contemplate adorning it daily. We removed the train so that it wouldn’t get caught in my wheels. We then used the excess material to create a sleeve to hide my black seatbelt – a must for any brides-to-be to have a flawless photo.
Designing wedding flowers to enhance my wheelchair
I’ll admit, I was disheartened that I was never going to get that gorgeous shot of the back of the bride’s dress as she walks down the aisle. But a quick chat with our florist changed that. She is a childhood friend with her own business and one I was keen to support. She knew my creativity, confidence and needs well, so together we designed beautiful displays to fit around me.
We gave me the stunning back and train that I’d always wanted with flowers instead of the dress. She made a foam mount, which attached to my backrest, and filled it with gorgeous wildflowers. On the morning of the wedding, hand-tied trails of flowers were added to give it soft movement covering the back of my wheelchair. Not to hide it, but to enhance this important part of me. I kept the idea from David as I wanted it to be a surprise.
I also chose not to have a bouquet so that I could hold my dad’s hand, and afterwards hold David’s too, whilst still being able to drive my wheelchair. But I still wanted some form of bouquet that I could keep with me at all times. So, she designed a beautiful wreath of flowers for my hair instead, which, in addition to looking beautiful, meant it didn’t limit or tire my arms!
Bucking some wedding traditions
Avoiding another tradition, we actually woke up together on the morning of the wedding as we do every day. For us, we felt that if something makes you feel most at ease, then why stress yourself to change it and your routine even more on such an important day?
We also spent months thinking of alternatives to the first dance as I knew I would cringe throughout it. In the end, instead of awkwardly trying to move around the dancefloor, we did something completely different – played a round of the Mr and Mrs quiz.
We laughed, we cried, some of us even sobbed during the speeches (and yes, I gave a speech too!) – it was a very emotional and sentimental day. I had made all of our decorations and gave each guest a personalised message. After all, it’s not every day that you get to spend with the people you care about the most.
I have never felt so lucky to marry my best friend on our most perfect, and inclusive wedding day. It was absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Venue – Muddifords Court Country House
Photographer – Jade Nott Photography
Florist – Zoë & Wildflower
Designer – Tori Elliott Illustration
By Tori Brooker
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