A practical post with some tips and advice for a subject not often addressed: what do you do if a bride, groom or a member of your party has special needs?
Let me start by saying that, obviously, there are many people with special needs, and they can run the gamut from intellectual challenges to physical handicaps, and each person deserves to be treated with caring and dignity, regardless of their difficulty. Whether you are getting married and have special needs, or whether a member of your party does, it can be helpful to know before you arrive at the bridal shop the kind of challenges you might face.
Wheelchair: If you are shopping for a wedding gown and you use a wheelchair, the only difficulty arises when 1. the actual store has stairs and/or no handicapped accessible restroom, or when it comes time for the sizing. A bride who is planning on wearing a traditional gown while in a wheelchair, may want to consider either having the train on her dress removed, or having her dress customized so that the train is a Watteau style train that falls from between her shoulders instead of from the skirt. Do not stand up to be sized for your hollow to hem (the length of your gown), remain seated, so that the hem of your dress will fall where you want it as you come down the aisle.
Mentally Challenged: We most often see the mentally challenged at the Bridal Store when it is time to size family members of the Bride and Groom for their bridesmaid dresses and tuxes. To get a good fit, and spend less on alterations, it is imperative that the sizer be able to ask and get meaningful responses to questions such as, "what size do you normally wear? Your bust measurement and waist measurement are putting you in two different sizes - I recommend we do such-and-such. What do you think?" If the customer is unable to answer these questions, it is strongly suggested that, just as in sizing of underage individuals, an adult friend or family member be present to assist in the determination of size.
Hearing Impaired/Blind: not usually an issue, actually. I have waited on both and find that communication may be slower, but is not typically impossible. I recommend that someone who has a communication challenge, or someone who will not be able to see the dresses they are trying on very well and will be relying on touch and others' opinions, try to make your appointment be during a slow period so that you will not feel rushed.
Amputees and Other Physical Differences: Usually more of an issue in the tux department than the bridal area. Dresses cover the lower half of the body, and necklines vary, but in the tux department, every tux comes with two legs and two sleeves. I usually ask a customer's preference when sizing for a tux: would they prefer to have the pant leg hemmed up to their limb? Would they prefer a weight be placed in a sleeve to give it shape when he is standing so as not to be obvious in pictures? At our store, like all the best stores, we own all our merchandise and have it on the premises, so we can make adjustments until the wearer feels completely comfortable.
Have you ever heard the philosophy that you should not make assumptions about a person's attitude towards their challenge, but you should take your cues from them? Like, should you offer to open a door for someone on crutches, or would that person feel like your good-will is more like pity? With this in mind, I genuinely welcome every person who enters my store, and wait for them to give me cues as to how they would like to proceed. If I get none, I gently ask. ("Would you like assistance getting into your strapless bra, or would you prefer I wait outside?") It seems to be working for me so far!
**I'd like to thank DA, who treats all his customers with the utmost care and dignity and has taught me almost all of what I know about assisting those with differences. His special customers come back to him again and again!