Inclusion and diversity are big buzz words these days. I’m not into buzzwords. I’m into taking action, and following through on what I say I’ll do. To use another naff corporate phrase, I’m into walking the walk. So, when I say I want to be an inclusive celebrant, I mean it. And I’m particularly committed to being inclusive of people with disabilities in my ceremonies.
As I’m visually impaired myself, I feel naturally drawn to couples and families who live with disability. Maybe one or both people in a couple has a disability, or one of the children in a family lives with one. I find myself rooting for them. I feel I understand where they’re coming from, and I want to go the extra mile to make sure they enjoy their ceremony as fully as anyone else.
Still, I’m aware that just because I don’t see very well myself, that doesn’t mean I know what other people with disabilities need. They may have very different disabilities to me, and even if they have a sight problem, their sight could be a lot worse than mine. So, I enlisted the help of inclusion coach Clare Kennelly of World Inclusion Training. Thanks so much to her for her input.
Based on the insights I gained from my coaching session with Clare, here are some ways I’m going to be a truly inclusive celebrant for people with disabilities.
The simplest way that I or any other celebrant can be inclusive is simply to ask them what they need. I’m not going to assume that I know just because I have a disability myself. When you ask the person what they need, you’re giving them the power to decide how their ceremony will be. You’re including them fully in the planning process. And you can then be sure that the ceremony you deliver for them will be fully accessible to them, as well as colourful, creative and full of meaning.
Make Ceremony Scripts Accessible
When I’m preparing a ceremony, I write a script containing all the words I’ll say in the ceremony. There are lots of ways to make these scripts accessible to people with various disabilities. For visually impaired people, it can often be as simple as writing the script in a clear, sans-serif font like Arial and enlarging the font.
It’s good to make ceremony scripts available in multiple formats. For example, I can record readings for visually impaired people that might be a good fit for their ceremony. Or I can create a visual running order for the ceremony. For example, if it’s a wedding, I could write Love Story and put a heart beside it, or unity candle ceremony with a candle glowing beside it. This can make it easier for people with dyslexia and autism to take in details about the ceremony.
Delivering an Inclusive Ceremony
On the day of the ceremony, there are a few simple things I can do to make it easier for people to take part. For example, if one of the people giving a reading uses crutches or a wheelchair, they can do the reading from where they are sitting. I actually saw a woman do this at a funeral I watched online recently, and her words still had the same impact.
But the biggest difference I can make on the day is for people with hearing loss. I can arrange for a sign-language interpreter to attend the ceremony, and they can allow Deaf people to experience the ceremony in the same way as hearing people. They will feel they are being spoken to, rather than just reading words on a page.
Championing Accessible Venues
To be approved as legal wedding venues, venues must be able to demonstrate that they are accessible to people with disabilities. They must have ramps for wheelchairs, and also enough space within rooms for electronic wheelchairs to be able to turn around. But the definitions of access can vary from venue to venue.
I’m going to make a commitment right now to only work with venues that incorporate accessibility into every aspect of their operations. There’s an app called Mobility Mojo that rates the accessibility of hotels. People can consult with the app to see if the hotel they want to stay in is fully accessible. As far as possible, I will work with hotels that are signed up to this app,
It’s really important to me that I get accessibility right. I’m not the crusading type, but I do think people with disabilities have the same right to ritual as anyone else. And by delivering ceremonies for people with disabilities, I’m showing that people with disabilities are just people. People who love, people who experience loss, and people who want to celebrate live.