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Wheelchair wedding, fun and love

by Liz Carr

1st November 2010

Liz Carr is about to get spliced with her girlfriend Jo in a civil partnership somewhere in central London. Here she tells us about the lifelong build-up to this moment and the somewhat quirky access adaptions she's made for the occasion.
Liz Carr in her hen night hat and sash
I’m getting married soon, so last weekend I had the obligatory hen night. I’m only just recovering from it - not because of the hangover but rather the memories of squeezing eight wheelchair users and an assortment of other friends into a private karaoke booth the size of a broom cupboard.

It was quite an occasion. I wore my pink beauty queen-esque sash emblazoned with the words 'hen night’. I was lifted aloft by two firemen and, before the night was over, I thought it would be hysterical to grab the mic and sing along to The Proclaimers “I would walk 500 miles...”. I can’t sing.
Liz Carr singing karaoke
My hen night was a surreal experience.

As a disabled child, then teenager and even as a twentysomething, I didn’t believe that anyone would love me or want to live with me, nevermind marry me. Whilst my mates were busy kissing frogs in their search for prince or princess charming, I had resigned myself to being content with the tadpoles. Love and marriage were most definitely not in the stars.

It has therefore come as a huge surprise to me that I’m currently in the throws of planning a wedding. And organizing it has proven more than a little bit of a challenge.
It’s not as though there’s an abundance of information out there to assist crip brides or grooms to be. On the rare occasion wedding magazines mention disabled people, it’s in a ‘special’ feature about how the bride tossed her wheels / crutches / iron lung aside and courageously limped down the aisle.

That kind of story does inspire me ... but not to take to my feet so that I’ll be equal to my non-disabled partner. Instead, we've hired a chair and she'll be wheeling down the aisle too. We'll be sitting side by side as we make our vows. Now that’s true equality.

Perhaps not surprisingly, finding an accessible wedding venue has been a struggle.

We wanted a place with enough crip loos and space to accommodate over 150 people, many of them wheelies. When we asked venues if they were wheelchair accessible, most of them assumed we meant for our grandparents, not one of the brides. And as for their definitions of 'access': “No problem! Just come in through the kitchen and we’ll find two strapping young waiters to carry you upstairs to the lift...”.
A young Liz Carr in her Holy Communion dress
Having eventually unearthed a suitable venue, my next priority was deciding what to wear.

Whilst many brides have dreamt about their wedding dress since childhood, I’ve had nightmares about having to wear children’s clothes on my big day.

As someone who’s the height of an 8 year old, my off the peg options consist of a selection of children’s bridesmaids dresses, a Disney princess costume or the outfit I wore for my first Holy Communion. Not wanting to shop at Mothercare for my bridal wear, I’ve opted instead to have a dress made to measure.

My wedding ring was also ‘specially’ made. Having large, chunky knuckles and slim fingers, I’ve been unable to find a shop bought ring to fit - one large enough to go over my knuckles will spin like a hula hoop around my finger.

In the past, the only things adorning my fingers have been brightly coloured elasticated rings made of beads. Since they’re like the jewellery equivalent of jogging bottoms, my partner and I took matters into our own hands, grabbed the soldering irons and made an accessible wedding band. The result is a very shiny, oval shaped one that goes over my knuckle - occasionally.
Liz Carr solders her made-to-measure wedding ring
What about my ultimate accessory, the wheelchair? As an integral part of me, shouldn’t my chair also reflect the occasion? If so, what should she wear? Balloons are a definite no-no, flashing lights would seem tacky and ribbon is just too twee. Instead, we’ve decided to just keep it simple - she’ll have all her nuts and bolts tightened in a prenuptial service and, on the wedding day, as a treat to us both, she’ll be adorned by a purple velvet covered cushion.

The florist who’s providing all the table displays wanted to cover my chair in vibrant blooms. Worried that we’d end up looking like a float without a parade, I declined. I do love flowers but as an electric wheelchair user I don’t think I could hold a bouquet. I drive my chair with my right hand and the left is my gimpy one - unable to hold anything weighing more than a feather.

As for the ridiculous tradition of throwing the bouquet... even if I grabbed hold with both hands and tossed it into the air, the furthest I could throw it in reality would be back on to my own lap. No bouquet then.

Added to all this: there’s no standing during the service, we’re having bridesmen not bridesmaids, our mums are giving us away, we’re having cocktails instead of champagne, there’s a designated area for guide dogs and entertainment is by a thalidomide Elvis impersonator... I never imagined I’d get married but there’s no way I could have even dreamed of a wedding like this.

• Liz got married on Monday 1 November 2010.

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