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International Day of People with Disability
Each year, December 3 marks the International Day of People with Disability. This day aims to raise awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability. Celebrant Melanie Lawson spoke with her friend, Carolyn about how we, as celebrants, can be more inclusive in our work.
This week I spoke with my good friend Carolyn about things that celebrants can consider to ensure that weddings, funerals and other life ceremonies are accessible to everyone, including people with disability. Carolyn is an active member of her community, a strong advocate for people with disabilities and a massive social butterfly! Carolyn uses a wheelchair to get around, so I asked her about her experiences involving ceremonies:
What was the best ceremony you have ever attended? What made it great?
The best ceremony of my life was my wedding in 1996! The day was a dream come true. We had the marriage ceremony in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney and then moved to a nearby hotel for the reception. It was great because I got to marry the love of my life, witnessed by my family and friends. Everything went smoothly and despite threatening clouds, the rain held off until we were safely inside. Reflecting on the accessibility of the event, it was important for us to have flat and open areas to move around, and for the reception to be close to the ceremony site so that we didn’t have to worry about how to travel between venues. One of my concerns was about having a suitable wedding car to take me to the wedding – I didn’t want to arrive in a taxi! I contacted a disability information service (IDEAS) and they put me in touch with a lovely man who owned an accessible vehicle which happened to be silver. He loaned us the car for the day for a low fee, which meant that I could arrive in style.
What barriers have you experienced in attending ceremonies?
One of the most difficult aspects of some ceremonies, particularly weddings, is the distance between the ceremony and the reception or wake. Because I rely on hired transport such as taxis, it means that I have to try to guess when the ceremony will end and ensure that I have transport available to pick me up and drop me off at each place. Many venues are also not very accessible. It is very embarrassing to be asked to enter a venue through a side entrance or to have to sit in the aisle, worrying about whether I will be in the way of the participants. I was invited to a cousin’s ‘destination wedding’ which was held overseas a few years ago and which was totally impossible for me to attend. I have found that sometimes the people organising the ceremony don’t think about the needs of people they are inviting, despite wanting those people to be part of their big day.
Do you have some ‘top tips’ for celebrants to help them to ensure that ceremonies are inclusive and accessible?
My top tip would be for celebrants to ask people to think about who is attending and what their needs might be. Planning ahead is key. It is also great if people can plan to address any barriers in an understated way and not make a big deal about the ‘special needs’ of a guest with a disability. It’s not just about physical access either; consider other needs such as older people who may be frail, people who have vision and hearing loss or people with intellectual disabilities who may need assistance to understand and follow the proceedings. Good friends of mine thoughtfully offered an extra place for a carer when inviting me to their wedding, so that I didn’t have to worry about the logistics of getting my carer to and from the ceremony when I needed them. Most importantly, consult the person with disability and don’t assume you know what they need!