“Accessible” Wedding Plans: Wheelchairs and All

This week, my partner, Ryan, and I are celebrating our first wedding anniversary.

Our first wedding anniversary takes me back to the thrills and challenges of planning not only a wedding but an "accessible" wedding.

Our first wedding anniversary takes me back to the thrills and challenges of planning not only a wedding but an “accessible” wedding.


After a year, I am happy to report that:

a) I love being married and

b) I’m glad I never have to go through the process of planning a wedding again!

As with all big projects, planning our wedding was quite the learning experience.

I had the great fortune of having a very helpful groom. Ryan was an eager co-planner, selecting the venue, caterer and (local) beer and wine selection.

However, some things needed to be my decision … not only as a bride, but as a bride who has a physical disability.

I’m what you call a “Little Person” who is 3’6” and has difficulty walking as I don’t have thighs or knees.

So I knew I would be switching up a few things in the name of accessibility.

Because of this challenge, the three things that required ingenuity were

  • the dress
  • coming down the aisle
  • the first dance

With some creativity, the help of others, and a bit of luck (in that order), we pulled these things off seamlessly.

The Dress:

I knew from the beginning that I would have to have my wedding dress tailor-made. From buying jeans that always were too long, I already knew I hated the feeling of paying for something expensive and then cutting half of it off!

I wasn’t about to do that with a gown. So, I found a local seamstress, made a few trips to the fabric store and got to design my own dress.

I was guided by a dozen wedding magazines passed on to me by a friend who recently married and my own vision of what the Goddess would wear to an important event (you know, something fairly simple and natural, yet elegant).

Imagining how my dress would look was guided by what the Goddess herself might wear to an important event (you know, something fairly simple and natural, yet elegant)?
Helpful was the dozen wedding magazines passed on to me by a recently married friend.

Coming Down the Aisle:

Since our ceremony was beach-side on Lake Michigan near Traverse City figuring out how to make my appearance was a decision that plagued me for months.

We seriously considered my arrival by canoe for many weeks until we realized it would be clumsy – especially trying to balance the canoe while getting out and staying dry.

I could walk down the aisle, but I’m short enough that no one would see me.

Plus, I already felt awkward about being walked down the aisle – for one thing the tradition of father giving away daughter challenged my feminist sensibility.  Plus, I didn’t want to emphasize that patriarchal custom by being so small that walking together literally appeared as a grown man and young daughter, my hand reaching up to meet my dad’s.

I thought about decorating my wheelchair, but never really felt excited by that idea.

So, what did I decide about coming down the aisle? Let’s just say some folks might think I let the Goddess thing go to my head. I prefer to think of our solution as logical … and unforgettable …

Ryan built me a sedan chair!

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That’s right, I rode down the aisle, carried by four handsome groomsmen, with my father by my side.


Waiting for me at the end was Ryan and a stool.

Ryan lifted me up so I could stand on the stool and the ceremony began.


The First Dance

The success of our first dance was pure luck. We kept meaning to practice, but with all the other planning and then the logistics of finding a space big enough to rehearse, we just never got around to it.

It's a dancing style unlike no other.

It’s a dancing style unlike no other

So, in front of about 150 people and dozens of cameras, we had to wing it.

Aided by Etta James’ At Last and perhaps divine intervention, it was the most natural and smooth dance of our lives.

Other Great Things about Our Wedding

Since we were creating the ceremony on a beach there was also the challenge of navigating all that sand – for both me and our officient, Susan Odgers, who’s a wheelchair user.

Thankfully, northern Michigan has recently been making great strides in accessibility.

In fact, just last summer, Ryan helped raise money to get a mobi-mat for a beach in Petoskey, MI. It’s a portable mesh walkway that’s hard enough to roll a wheelchair on over the sand.

A bunch of really good looking people won't you say? Shown here modeling the mobi mat.

A bunch of really good looking people won’t you say? Shown inadvertently modeling the mobi mat.

They originally were designed for the military, but they’re now being used to make beaches accessible for baby strollers, wheelchairs and those who have trouble walking in sand.

Traverse City, where Ryan is from, already had a mobi mat. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask if we could use it.

Sure enough!  The city rolled it out on the little beach on East Bay that we chose as our site and it served as our aisle.


Our officient, Susan is a role model for me. She’s a counselor, a professor, an activist, a dancer and a writer. In fact, she writes a column in the Traverse City paper called “Adapted in TC” and featured us in the column that came out on our wedding day.

Shout-out to Susan for her advocacy

Susan is fiery and loving, as well as wise and generous. When she agreed to marry us, something she’d never done before, we were ecstatic.


Ryan and I wrote our ceremony together, but individually wrote our vows. We decided that we wouldn’t show them to each other before we spoke them in front of the world.

Not surprising, they were very aligned. We both spoke about growing and learning together, about sharing our love of nature, and how we truly are best friends.

I vowed to always find time for us in the weave of an ambitious schedule. Ryan vowed to help me succeed in and enjoy this world by doing whatever he can to make it accessible for me.

We have both fulfilled our promises. Here’s to a great first year!

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Credit images: Stockin Photographic


About Dessa

Originally a Southerner, Dessa loves the charm and hospitality of Detroit. Dessa is a proud Little Person, using her disability to challenge, endear, and cut lines at amusement parks. Training community organizers by day and earning her Masters of Social Justice after hours, Dessa loves shifting paradigms, breaking glass ceilings, and honoring the Feminine Divine. Click here to read more about Dessa

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