Regular readers will know that my life at present divides into two main areas:
- Planning my forthcoming wedding.
- Running and developing my business.
While working on these projects, I have again and again encountered two important truisms:
- "Wedding" translates roughly as "add another zero" - there's a lot of money involved.
- Business is about persuading other people to give you money.
Everyone happy with these starting principles? Then let's move along to the disability angle.
I am a part-time wheelchair user. At my wedding, I will be walking down the aisle (I'm hoping to get one of these gorgeous walking sticks for that bit), but I will be using a wheelchair right up to the ceremony room door and for most of the reception. There's just no other way that I will last the whole day and yet still be able to participate.
This adds a whole range of access requirements. At other people's weddings, I'm prepared to shuffle in side entrances, withdraw to the car for a nap, sit on the floor or crawl up steps if necessary. On occasion I've attended for just the ceremony or just the reception depending on the preference of the happy couple. But damned if I'll be doing that at my own wedding. It's not Bridezilla-ish to put the needs, wishes and comfort of the bride and groom directly at the top of the priority tree.
And I swear, it's like watching a bathtub emptying as the possibilities dwindle to almost nothing on the simple query "can I get in?"
Venue is the obvious one. As a small business owner, I have been repeatedly made aware that I have a duty to consider how disabled people might access my products or services, and what adjustments I might put in place to improve access, even if it is not reasonable for me to make those adjustments at this stage. Make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to give you as much money as possible.
Some places are honest enough to simply declare on their websites that "owing to the historic nature of the property" they'd like wheelchair users to just f--k off. They don't phrase it quite like that but it's the message loud and clear - they're not allowed to say "No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish" any more but the cripples can Keep Out. Worse than that, though, are the ones who haven't given it any thought at all. And worse still was the hotel who claimed they had great access throughout, invited me to visit, and then we found out that the ceremony and reception rooms had decent access but there was no access to any of the other facilities included in their wedding package, such as the Bridal Suite or any other 'deluxe' room, the swimming pool and spa, the gardens, the bar, the restaurant...
I could go on for days about the barriers I've encountered, but suffice to say that based on physical access alone, from the 50 or so local venues in a range of styles and prices that a non-disabled bride could choose from, my pool of choice was down to about 10 (call it 8 because I am NOT getting married at a Holiday Inn) and it took a couple of hours of emails and phone calls plus several of my precious Social Care hours to find out that much.
I should not have to work so hard to try and spend a Wedding amount of money.
Wedding dresses are the same story. I need to be able to stand up and sit down in my dress (or possibly trousers, might be easier, not sure, but we'll stick with saying "dress" for now) and still look bridal. So the chair is definitely going to have to come in with me for dress shopping and fittings.
Another half hour or so on the phone reveals that there are NO wheelchair-accessible bridal shops in Leamington.
There's ONE in Warwick, the next town along. Possibly two - the person I spoke to told me something something side entrance should be wide enough because they're sure they've had "wheelchair people" in the shop before. The others were basically trying to persuade me that I should be prepared to crawl up and down the stairs (remember these people knew nothing about why or how I use a wheelchair) and that maybe I could get a friend to carry the wheelchair up the stairs for me.
I wonder, do they propose that non-disabled brides should attempt to do an assault course with a bridesmaid on hand to do weightlifting, just for the privilege of handing over a Wedding amount of money?
One even told me "well you have to make the effort." Excuse me, no, I don't. I am the customer. You are the business. You have to make the effort to get my money by making it as pleasant and easy as possible for me to hand it over. Not by treating me as an inconvenience and expecting me to work for it.
Business owners have a duty to consider how disabled people might access their products and services, and what adjustments might improve access. Failing to do that, particularly in the wedding industry, means failing to understand those two simple starting points - that "wedding" means "add another zero" and that business is about persuading other people to give you money.
I am enjoying the wedding planning; I have found a venue that meets our needs and I'm sure I'll find a dress as well, one way or another. But I certainly don't feel that my experiences are matching those of a non-disabled bride.