We know that for many Offbeat Brides, planning a wedding around issues like social anxieties, autism, and disabilities can create unique challenges. That in mind, here’s UK Offbeat Bride Mel telling us about how she worked with her partner to create an accessible wedding that felt safe and fun for both of them all their guests…
When we decided to get married the ‘traditional’ way with all our family and friends as witnesses, we knew we’d have to cater for a number of diverse sensory issues and physical disabilities. The groom (I’ll call him “R”) can become overstimulated easily, and his parents have similar issues with crowds. We tried to organise the day in such a way that everyone could enjoy it as much as possible without feeling overwhelmed, claustrophobic or debilitatingly anxious.
1. The Setup of The Day
We filmed the ceremony on my iPad via Facebook Live for family and friends who couldn’t make it, and so that if some guests (new parents/guests with high levels of social anxiety) needed to leave at any point, they could still watch it live from outside on their devices.
We chose to have the main reception in the church itself, where we could make use of all the rooms, including setting aside a Quiet Room with blankets, stimulation objects and books. Our “Afterparty” was at another venue but if people wanted to leave after the “main reception” they could, and not feel they had missed anything important, including the main group photos and cake-cutting.
The Afterparty took place at the wonderful (pretty haunted) Llancaiach Fawr Manor, Trelewis, where they opened up a classroom in the old stable block for free so we could have a Quiet Room there too away from the main entertainment in the Old Barn. People either hid there for the duration or used it as a decompression space for short, intermediate periods. Without that, about 8-9 guests wouldn’t have been able to attend at all, and a lot more would have felt far more uncomfortable and had to leave a lot earlier than they did.
2. Dietary Requirements
Since it was a very hot day, we bulk-bought bottles of water and handed them out at the church before the service. Extra bottles were distributed to rough sleepers locally.
Texture & taste were just as important as allergies for us, as many guests are on the autism spectrum and find strong tastes or certain textures impossible to eat. We opted for a buffet reception in the church itself as our church venue has a hall, toilets & crèche at the back of the building. A buffet reception without seating plans meant everyone could find something they wanted (or feel far less self-conscious about bringing their own!). The Afterparty at Llancaiach Fawr Manor was an informal hog roast with vegetarian/vegan options, and we were allowed to bring our own food for the few guests who needed kosher/other specific dietary needs. Again, no seating plans, so people could make full use of the courtyard and sit where they wanted! We had lots of young children too who needed somewhere to run around.
The church was Welsh nonconformist so therefore dry, but the Afterparty had a licensed bar. We had wine on the tables but also printed cheap “free drink of choice” vouchers via Vistaprint’s business card template, which included soft drinks, hot drinks (tea/coffee), beer, wine, or single spirit + mixer. That way everyone could choose what they wanted!
Buffets are fine when there are distractions like photographs and cake cutting, but at the Afterparty, the tables were set upon a more formal way and the lack of seating plan had its downside! We went to various bargain and Pound shops and bought cheap travel games, packs of playing cards and bubble wands, and set them up on the tables as the centrepieces with battery-powered fairy lights around them. People could play single-player card games or Connect 4 or Nine Man’s Morris or poker if they wanted, and that went down well!
We had a bellydancer (Welsh-Turkish like me the bride!) and I danced with her as a “first dance” as R doesn’t like performing in front of people! She had an hour set while everyone was eating, which gave people something to watch if they didn’t want to chat or play games!
Since R hates being the centre of attention and family life is complicated, we vetoed speeches entirely and booked a professional storyteller for the 30min after-dinner slot. He kept to time and all the adults and children were utterly spellbound for half an hour by the tale of Pwyll and Rhiannon from the Mabinogion, and he raised a toast to us at the end. This also saved a lot of anxiety and claustrophobia that can come with being unable to leave your seat for an indeterminate length of time, not knowing if the speech will strike a wrong note or go on for too long!
Finally, we booked a lady to do historical dances instead of a disco. The music was less bass-heavy than a disco and more pleasant to listen to if you weren’t up for actually dancing, and again it was more interesting to watch if you were happier not joining in. She plugged her phone into the amps and did 2hrs from the Middle Ages up to the animal dances of the early 20thC, teaching us the steps like a barn dance or ceilidh. Since no one knew how to dance them, everyone was up for giving at least one a try! The total cost for all three entertainers and the amp hire was about the same as (and in some cases, cheaper than) hiring a live band!
We had a wonderful day and R even enjoyed most of it a lot more than he expected to! Now for some serious alone time to recover after all the lovely people!
How did you accommodate the social anxieties of the folks at your wedding?