Saturday, May 01, 2010

It's not Bridezilla to want access

Written for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010.

Regular readers will know that my life at present divides into two main areas:

  1. Planning my forthcoming wedding.

  2. Running and developing my business.

While working on these projects, I have again and again encountered two important truisms:

  1. "Wedding" translates roughly as "add another zero" - there's a lot of money involved.

  2. 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.


erasmus (aka jiva) said...

I'd love to come dress shopping with you. I know that adds a whole new list of things to consider, like coming back home and a day in Norwich, or me coming to you when I'm on holiday.

Adelaide Dupont said...

Good luck with the gorgeous walking stick.

Anonymous said...

Great post. All true, of course. Congratulations!

Rebecca said...

Good luck with finding everything you need for your wedding. I was recently at my ex-house-mate's wedding. He and his bride are blind, and many of their friends are blind. It was lovely to see so many guide dogs in one place, and a church and reception venue that were happy to host them.

Carie @ Space for the Butterflies said...

It just seems crazy doesn't it but I suspect that in partnership with the "I want you to give me business" comes the "so many people want to give me business that I really don't need to make any extra effort". I know the hotel we had our reception at were so nervous about doing a wedding (mostly wakes up until then) that they pulled out all the stops - that and my Mum knows their Mum! I'm really glad you've found a great venue :) As for dresses - there were some pretty dresses out at Ufton and from memory it should be accessible. If you ever need a lift I'll happily play chauffer!

Tom Babinszki said...

Very motivational. If I had a business that needs physical access, I'd stop and think. I like this post because it tells a story, and it shows a life. For a long time I tried to make points that ADA says, and Section 508 requires that... And then who cares. But if I can tell people a story about why the ADA says... and why Section 508 requires... etc. it makes a whole lot of a difference.
Thank you for the great post, and good luck with the planning.

Mary said...

Carie - you're on. In the next couple of weeks I should have the Wheelchair Of Fabulousness and the world will be my self-propelling oyster.

Jiva - no idea when I'm next in your neck of the woods. But I think you've already spotted the Wave?

Everyone - many thanks for the comments. I love comments.

I'm also pleased to report that another shop in Warwick called me this morning and told me that they can't make any promises, but they're going to look into getting hold of a ramp, and if they do, they'll call me back.

Ruth said...

Being a small business owner with a disability is not easy, much less planning a wedding. Then you have the access issues, etc.

While I was reading this, I kept thinking about how it would have been easier if there was an informal directory online for brides with disabilities to make it easier to find information someone else already discovered.

And, of course, congratulations!

Never That Easy said...

I'm not a bride, but having been a bridesmaid in a wheelchair (or otherwise incapable of climbing steps) many, many times now, I can sympathize with how difficult it is to find things that suit your needs. And the point about how many hours/spoons you have to waste trying to FIND OUT if things are even an option really hit home with me too.

Best of luck with your wedding: Congratulations~

Stephen said...

I read a story once about a bride with a dress dilema. She had to be able to stand in her dress and also the seat of the lamborghini she was driving to and from the ceremony (yeah it was about that point I lost total sympathy with the poor girl).

Point is, I'm sure that the bridal dress maker person (you can tell I know a lot about this kind of thing) travelled to the car so they could find a suitable frock to fit. Is there any way that they may be able to come to you and avoid the issue of accessing the shop?

Good luck with it all...I hope that when the day comes it's absolutely perfect.

Mary said...

Ruth - Yes. I love things like the Rough Guide to Accessible Britain which tell me, not about "special" disability-centric holiday centres, but about all sorts of mainstream attractions that also have good access.

Stephen - I suspect that if her dress was an accessory to her Lamborghini then her budget was probably in the area where you don't buy a dress, so much as hire a designer.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I love your 'voice'. Good luck with the planning. I hope your wedding day turns out to be magical.

Sarah said...

Re the dress.

Don't buy a 'Wedding Dress' from a 'Wedding Dress Shop'. They'll fleece you for a vast fortune for an impractical frock you'll never be able to wear again.

Get something you like, from a shop you like. Or can at least get into and around.

Wheelchair Dancer said...

Congratulations!!!! Joy to you and yours.

It's not Bridezilla, not at all. Access is just hard. So many places and people don't get it - drives me in circles. It's amazing to me still -- each little step requires more thought. Oh? You want to travel?? OK. (small attempts). Watch a movie (Well, OK. more small attempts). You want to get married? (Help! We hadn't thought of that!!!)

Good luck


Attila the Mom said...

Great post! I wish you and your intended much joy and happiness!

evilstevie said...

Thanks all, and I'm guessing the wedding shops of surrounding towns with the wonders of shopping centres (which kind of have built-in access, until they cram the aisles full of stuff anyway) might be a better bet for having a look around. Tell me again about these nasty big shopping centres killing off our precious local businesses? ;)
Also: "stictifi" captcha. I'm getting suspicious of its algorithm now...

Louna said...

Great post. (I know, I'm doing my reading late, but BADD is just a lot to go through.) snark: Why do wedding dress shops and venues and all need to be accessible anyways? Disabled people never fall in love, much less marry. /snark
I know that for her wedding, my (currently abled) step-mom ordered a dress from a catalogue. Then she didn't like it, sent it back and went to a store. Still, it could be another option...
I wish you all the best for your wedding and your business.

Mary said...

Thanks - I haven't ruled out any dress options, like catalogue ordering or second-hand or whatnot... but I really need to have at least one session of just trying on lots of different shapes and styles so that I can get a better idea of what works with my body shape and the practicalities of the wheels.

Andrea S. said...

Like another one of the people commenting here, I too am taking many weeks to very slowly work my way through all the BADD posts.

1. Yah, it really sucks that it can so often take so much effort just to FIND OUT, "Is X accessible"? There are things that I just don't do because it is either difficult or impossible to find out. But of course when it comes to something as important as your own wedding, ignoring the existence of information-ambiguous options isn’t an option.

2. As a deaf person, my accessibility issues for my wedding years ago were obviously different from yours. But I insisted on having interpreters present for the whole event, including dinner with the family the night before and the wedding rehearsal and breakfast the morning of and so forth. Anything where the family was together. And I recall that my parents sort of understood but also thought I was being a little excessive in how thorough I was about demanding full, true accessibility. They're used to my perching at the edge of family reunions, occasionally looking at Mom to interpret some of it (but also looking away some of the time, because I can remember so many occasions as a child when she wouldn't interpret certain things for whatever reason ... sometimes just because there was an "adult" conversation going on, or for other good reasons -- but I never had a way to discern whether it was a "good" time to request interpretation or not, so ever since childhood I've dealt with that uncertainty by being very cautious about how often I look in her direction and by only rarely asking in a direct way for interpretation. Basically I ration out how often I ask for communication access). My parents are not used to my insisting on full communication access. But, of course, for my wedding, I wanted that.

We were very lucky to have the right person performing the wedding ceremony. We needed someone associated with some religion so that my partner's very strongly Christian family wouldn't get too upset (i.e., it could not be a secular judge, there had to be at least some thin veneer of religious flavor in there). But as an atheist, I didn't want "God language" in the ceremony. I also wanted someone marrying us who could sign. I had interpreters for everything else, including access to all social conversations. But for the ceremony itself, I really wanted direct access, not via an interpreter. As a bisexual woman marrying a transgender person (later she determined that she is a transsexual woman and transitioned some years ago, though at the time we married she was still figuring out whether she might be transsexual versus a cross dresser) neither of us wanted a ceremony that was too hetero-centric or too focused on the gender of the participants.

My parents found for us the perfect person: a Unitarian minister (thus used to preaching to a mixed crowd of Christians and atheists) who was a lesbian and fluent in ASL. It was a big load off my mind once I met her and really understood how perfect a fit she was for both of us.

I hope you are able to find arrangements that work as well for you. I don't get how anyone can fail to understand why any person with disabilities would want to have ONE day and ONE event in which we do NOT have to think about accessibility. DUH.

Perhaps the problem is that for THEM (non-disabled people), they ONLY think about accessibility when suddenly they are confronted with the request to assist with accessibility arrangements. If a person with disabilities just quietly sits by and endures imperfect (or non-existent) accessibility, then naturally, for THEM, this means they don't have to think about it. I think that some non-disabled people have this bizarre idea that if THEY aren't thinking about accessibility (because they aren't doing anything to make it happen) this somehow means WE aren't thinking about accessibility. But of course it's the opposite.