My Life As A Visually Impaired Celebrant

Anyone who reads my blogs and social media posts may have noticed that I always add a photo description to each post. The photo description tells search engines what’s in your photograph, but it also tells anyone who’s visually impaired or blind what’s in your photo. I felt it was only right to set a good example and add these photo descriptions, because I myself am a visually impaired celebrant.

I can see enough. That’s the best way I can describe it. Thanks to my trusty magnifier, I can see print and images on my laptop easily enough. But move print any more than six inches away from my face and it disappears. I have a turbulent relationship with steps, which turns some ceremony venues into an adventure for me. And it takes me a little more time to get to grips with the finer details of some ceremony rituals.

Challenges in Celebrancy Training

When I was doing my celebrant training, my sight proved more of a challenge than I expected. I’ve had the same sight all my life, so it doesn’t knock a feather out of me at this stage. Usually once I have the handouts in front of me and can listen to the presenter, I fly through course material. But our course manual was printed in the smallest, faintest font known to man. And I couldn’t really tell what the tutors were doing when they were showing us the rituals, particularly the handfasting.

I had explained my situation before I began my celebrancy training with the IIOC and asked the tutors to spend a bit of extra time with me on the rituals. They let me actually do the ritual, so I could feel the ribbon in my hands and see up close where it was meant to go. I was grateful for the extra time they spent and managed to do a perfect handfasting at the mock ceremony I did on the day of my celebrant exam.

I also let the course organisers know that the manual wasn’t accessible and I’ve been told they were planning to update it since. COVID may well have made that situation easier, as the IIOC is currently delivering its courses via Zoom. That means that any visually impaired attendees of the course can use their magnifiers or their screen readers (software that reads all the information on a screen for blind people) to access the course material.

So, how do I then deliver a ceremony?

Well, mostly I use my superpower – my ability to memorise large amounts of information. After I write my ceremony, I learn it off word for word. I find this the best way to manage. If I were to read it in the normal way, my face would be buried behind the book. If I memorise it, I can look out at the crowd and let them see my face. I still have my ceremony book, with the script in giant writing in case I get lost. But mostly I never use my celebrant book.

This pic illustrates how I manage my ceremony text as a visually impaired celebrant.
Pic Caption: This is me in my pink celebrant suit with yellow bushes in the background. I’m holding my celebrant book and if you look closely, you can see the giant writing. (Photo Credit: Dermot Byrne Photography)

I’ll also spend time practising the rituals. All celebrants do this anyway, but I know I need to spend a little extra time on them so I can feel comfortable lighting candles and tying ribbons under pressure. Taking this time literally gives me a feel for the ritual, so I’m not just relying on my sight to pull the ritual off during the ceremony.

Then on the day, I spend extra time scoping out the venue. Celebrants are advised to turn up well in advance of a ceremony anyway, so I’ll turn up about two hours before the ceremony and walk around the venue to see if there are any steps that may trip me up. Funny enough, flights of steps are okay, but one step can be a landmine, so it’s good to know that step is there.

My Ceremony Helpers

It’s good to have an ally on the day, someone who knows the score and can step in if needed. If it’s a wedding, I’d probably inform the best man about my eye condition, and if it’s a funeral, I’d let the funeral director know. But my biggest ally of all is my husband.

As many ceremony venues are away from public transport links, and there can be a lot of materials to carry, he drives to the venue with me and helps me to set up. He’s a good logistics man with a sharp eye for detail, so he’s the secret weapon to my success as a celebrant.

Because of my own background, I’d love to work with couples and families who have disabilities of all kinds. I’ll do all I can to make sure the ceremony experience I create is accessible for everyone. If you want to get in touch with me about my ceremonies, please contact me on info@celebrantderv.ie.

Celebrant Training: Why It’s A Great Idea

Yesterday, I got a call from a wannabe celebrant who’s thinking of training to be a celebrant. I chatted to her about my own celebrant training and how I felt it had shaped me as a celebrant. It got me thinking about why training to be a celebrant is important.

Recognition for Celebrancy

Celebrancy is a funny profession. It’s both very old and very new. There have been ceremonies since the beginning of time, and there have been people who were given the role of officiating them. In recent years, as organised religion declines in many countries, the role of ceremony officiant is being given recognition again.

But because celebrancy is only just being recognised again as a profession, there are lots of loopholes. Anyone can set themselves up as a celebrant without training. I did a baby naming ceremony in September 2018 before I even knew there was such a thing as a celebrant, and I could have started a celebrancy business the next day.

I can’t lie. I was really tempted to tell the world I was now a celebrant – I was so bursting with joy after the baby naming ceremony. But I felt it was important to be equipped with the proper skills, so I could deliver ceremonies that were professional as well as fun.

Beginning Celebrant Training

I did my research and decided the courses offered by the Irish Institute of Celebrants (IIOC) fit the bill. They would give me total freedom to deliver the ceremonies that people wanted. I could be as creative, as spiritual, as passionate and as outrageous as I wanted. That was important to me.

In September 2019, I qualified as a family celebrant with the IIOC. A family celebrant delivers weddings, baby naming ceremonies and vow renewals. Then in October, I began the IIOC funeral celebrant course and qualified as a funeral celebrant in March 2020. Because I completed the two courses, the IIOC awarded me a diploma in family and funeral celebrancy.

You’ll find out more about me and what kind of celebrant I am here.

Naturally there are differences between the two courses. The funeral celebrant course prepares you for dealing with people in a heightened state of grief, while the family ceremony shows you how to bring joy into people’s lives with your ceremonies. But there were skills I learned which were common to both.

Voice Techniques

There’s a strong element of performance in the course, and we had several sessions showing us how to use our voices to deliver a great performance. Trained actors showed us how to breathe correctly and how to control our voices so that nerves wouldn’t get in the way.

We did tongue twisters to stop us from tripping over tricky consonants. The tutor also showed us how to manage the pace of our delivery and gave us tricks to help us deliver our ceremonies with meaning and passion.

Carrying Out Rituals

Ritual is a hugely important part of ceremonies. They’re powerful symbols of life and of love. We learned about the meaning and origins of some of the most popular rituals, like the Celtic handfasting carried out at weddings. We also learned to carry out those rituals.

We tied ribbons around each other’s hands and we lit candles. We also learned about where to stand during a ritual and how to direct the people taking part. We kept practising until the rituals felt natural and we could carry them out seamlessly.

Telling Stories Of Love

The thing that makes the IIOC celebrant courses stand out is the emphasis on storytelling. We learned to create unique ceremonies for each family we work with. On both courses, there was a module on storytelling, to help us craft and deliver these unique stories.

On the wedding course, we learned to write love stories for couples that captured the special moments in their relationship, from first meeting to proposal. And on the funeral course, we learned how to write eulogies, love stories of a different kinds. Eulogies are stories that capture the essence of the person who has passed away and allow the families to express their love for that person, one last time.

Dealing With Clients

Though the IIOC celebrant courses aren’t business courses, we did learn how to develop a relationship with people we worked with and how to collaborate with them to create our ceremonies.

We did mock consultation sessions, where we played the part of a client and a celebrant. We asked each other questions to find out what ceremony the person would like. This was particularly challenging during the funeral course, when we learned how to consult with clients in fraught situations.

Delivering Ceremonies

After all these modules were finished, it was time for our final assessment, and that assessment took the form of a ceremony. For our wedding ceremony, we were given the name of a couple and told to write a ceremony for them.

We had some rehearsal sessions to practice our rituals, our stance and our ceremony scripts. Then we delivered our ceremonies in front of people from other celebrancy courses. We chose people to play the bride and groom and delivered our ceremonies.

The funeral ceremony process was interesting. To give us experience of how a funeral would happen in real time, we had to write and deliver a funeral ceremony within three days. We did a consultation session with an actor playing the part of a bereaved person.

From the information we gathered at the consultation, we wrote a draft ceremony within twenty-four hours. Then we rehearsed and delivered that ceremony, in an empty room with just the examiners at the other end. After that, delivering a ‘real’ funeral will be easy!

This photo illustrates the value of celebrant training, that your skills are certified.
This is a picture of me in my pink suit holding a certificate, on the day I qualified as a family celebrant last September.

Overall, I’m glad I completed my celebrant training. I feel I’m equipped to deal with my clients and to cope with whatever glitches arise. The fact that I’ve invested time and money to become a better celebrant builds trust. And I can show people that I have the skills to deliver the ceremony of their dreams.

Want to get the benefit of my excellent training? Give me a call on 00 353 87 6959799 to start the ball rolling for a brilliant ceremony.

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