As the founder of The Bridal Bar, Harmony Walton knows how to connect couples with the right creative professionals. So when it came to creating her own dream wedding at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, planned by Marcy Blum Associates, she had more than a few ideas on how to make it a sensational and personal event for everyone involved — like an escort wall that uncovered stories from the couple’s secret Instagram account and printed cocktail napkins that turned the groom’s name into a word in the dictionary.
Most of all, Harmony wanted to make the wedding a meaningful and inclusive event for her father who had recently become deaf and physically disabled. Here, she shares tips on how to accommodate guests with disabilities so that they can comfortably participate in any celebration — including dreamy destination weddings like hers.
1. Be Selective in Choosing Your Venue
“Location is everything,” as the saying goes. When it comes to creating a safe and enjoyable experience for your guests, finding the right venue is of paramount importance. When researching possible venue locations, Harmony advises couples to consider the layout of the property. Hotels and resorts are more likely to have ADA accessible ceremony and reception sites than reception venues, trendy barns, or gardens. Harmony also suggests researching whether the property has a transportation infrastructure, such as golf carts, that will make it easier for guests with physical disabilities to traverse the grounds.
It’s equally essential to consider the service level of the property. Because Harmony’s father was more recently disabled, she was still learning the “right” questions to ask the venue. The Four Seasons, however, made sure to inquire about her father’s specific needs and provide appropriate accommodations. Harmony says “it’s the small attention to detail that you don’t know you need until you need it” that distinguishes the Four Seasons as a luxury hotel.
2. Inquire About Assistive Technology
Assistive technology can make all the difference for a guest with a disability. Harmony’s father is deaf and therefore unable to make or answer telephone calls. When Mr. Walton arrived at the hotel, he was given a phone number that he could text if he needed anything during his stay. Because he arrived early at the hotel, staff also offered to text Mr. Walton when his room was finished being prepared.
The Four Seasons also provided Mr. Walton with a door knock signaler for his hotel room. The visual alert system used a light display to alert him when a housekeeper or family member was knocking on the door. This doorbell system allowed Mr. Walton to keep his door closed and maintain his privacy.
The Four Seasons even provided Mr. Walton with a way to respond to any communications that came in while he slept. A vibrating insert for his mattress cover alerted him when he received a text message or a knock on his hotel room door. This insert could be turned on or off at his preference.
3. Educate Staff
This was Mr. Walton’s first time traveling since his return from the hospital a year and a half ago. Because his hearing loss and limited mobility were new experiences for him, he didn’t always know the right questions to ask the hotel staff. This is where a skilled staff can make a huge difference at your celebration. The entire staff at the Four Seasons, from waiters to the front desk, knew Mr. Walton’s name and circumstances. Staff members were instructed to stand face-to-face with Mr. Walton so he would be able to lip read. Harmony says that the biggest thing a property can do is “say yes and anticipate needs no matter how minor.” The more training that the staff receives, the more they are able to provide quality service to your guests.
4. Empower Your Guest
If anyone has a lot to do before and during the wedding celebration, it’s the bride. Mr. Walton wanted Harmony to enjoy her celebration without worrying about his care. One of the best ways you can accommodate guests with disabilities is to help them feel independent at an event. The staff at the Four Seasons let Mr. Walton know that he could communicate directly with them for any additional support.
Mr. Walton needs to eat frequently and drink plenty of fluids in order to avoid feeling faint. When he informed the hotel that there was no minibar in his hotel room, the staff immediately put in a request for a nightly standing-room-service order. As a result, Mr. Walton was able to get the help he needed without asking his daughter to intervene. “Now I know I can travel,” Mr. Walton told his daughter at the end of his stay.
5. Provide Physical Access to the Venue
The Four Seasons offered to provide Mr. Walton with a wheelchair. In the end, Mr. Walton decided that he would be happiest using his walker. The Four Seasons put his room close to the lobby so he would be able to easily access the rest of the property. Harmony said the hotel’s effort to make him comfortable brought her to tears.
Instead of having her ceremony on a vast lawn, Harmony chose an intimate space overlooking the ocean. Her father walked her down the short aisle to two giant plumeria trees which created a gorgeous natural alter. After the ceremony at Plumeria Point, staff members offered to escort Mr. Walton to the reception. They helped him navigate through the wet areas around the pool and then took an alternative route to the reception where a “Pick Your Pineapple” favor bar and his-and-hers cocktail bars awaited guests. This extra assistance ensured Mr. Walton didn’t miss a moment of his daughter’s big day.
6. Ensure Guests Can Actively Participate in the Celebration
One of the most cherished parts of any wedding celebration is getting to share the day with friends and family. In an effort to distinguish and celebrate their guests, Harmony and her partner Bayo left handwritten thank-you notes under each dinner menu and gave each guest a dinner napkin embroidered with his or her name. We especially love how Steven Boyle Design decorated Mr. Walton’s walker with greenery to match the bride’s lush oversized bouquet, thereby distinguishing him as a guest of honor.
For Harmony, it was important that her father fully experience his important role as father-of-the-bride. She asked her father to select a song for their father-daughter dance. He chose “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. As they danced, Harmony mouthed the words to her father so he could experience the beat of the song from start to finish. Videographer Elysium Productions captured the beautiful moment on film as guests looked on with tears and smiles.
The wedding was beautiful, personal, inclusive — and memorable for all.
Since the writing of this feature, Mr. Walton has passed away in the presence of family and loved ones. In moments of grief, memories of special moments at weddings and other celebrations — like those Harmony created with her father — are all the more special to have.