Awesome Humans 11 Jun
From Wheelchair to Wedding Bells; Living My Best Life as a Disabled Woman
On their journeys, on disabled woman, interviews another
By Jess Mackay and Rebecca Dubber
Jessica and Rebecca are in similar life stages. Rebecca is engaged, Jess is a newlywed and both have just purchased a house too! In light of their similar life journeys’ we wanted Rebecca to ask Jess some questions, to have a chat about their lives and – accessible wedding dresses.
Rebecca: Jess, I am so excited to chat with you today! Obviously we’re at similar stages, but our journey’s are also different. Can you share with us a bit about you and your background, how did you become a wheelchair user?
Jess: In 2001, when I was seven years old, I woke up one day with pins and needles in my legs and the following 2 weeks led to a diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis. Transverse Myelitis is a rare neuro-immune disorder, characterized by inflammation of the spinal cord. This left me with complete paralysis at the T12 level. Twenty years on, my life is not much different from my non-disabled friends (maybe with a few extra challenges thrown in). I have an office job that I am lucky enough to do from home and I’m also a freelance makeup artist on the weekends. I am newly married to my high school sweetheart, Nick and we recently built our first home together.
R: Amazing. As I am a life-long wheelchair user, I’d definitely say that my disability has fully shaped my outlook. Do you feel the same as someone who has acquired your disability?
J: Being in a wheelchair since I was seven years old has definitely shaped a lot of my life. It has made me way more resilient and I don’t let people's judgments affect me. I always try to see the best in people and I think that a lot of people mean well but they just don’t understand some disabilities. It is so important to educate people, make people more aware and teach them that disabilities are all different.
It’s funny, when I reflect on all the challenges that have been thrown my way, and everything that I have had to overcome; I think that as disabled people, we should be the ones that people don’t underestimate. I’d like to think we are all problem solvers and creative thinkers and we always have a way to overcome anything thrown at us.
R: Yes, education is so important – as is getting out there and making sure to live life! We are both newly or near married and in that stage of figuring out the next part of our lives, as a disabled woman, what has that been like for you? What have been the difficulties, triumphs and funny moments and what advice would you share with others?
J: I didn’t move out of my parents home until I was almost 27 and I was nervous to not have my mum and dad around everyday incase I needed help with something. I had a while to get around the idea of moving out while our house was being built. Once we did move, it was such a breeze and now I love being in my own space, I don’t know what I was worried about for all those months! I definitely doubt myself at times when I shouldn’t. We all need to remember or be reminded of our capabilities and not our disabilities.
For anyone in a similar position I’d tell them to feel confident, but also use their support system when it is needed!
R: I totally agree! You recently got married and of course I am engaged. We aren’t planning our wedding for a while until we settle into our home, so I am dying to know, how did you go about planning your wedding with accessibility in mind? Did you have to think about anything different/new that others might not have considered?
J: Ah that’s so exciting! Well the first thing to tackle when planning a wedding is booking a venue. We were so lucky to find our dream venue at the first place we looked and it was fully wheelchair accessible! One of my biggest worries for our wedding was going down the aisle, I thought it might look weird having my dad push me down, and we wanted our ceremony area on grass so walking/rolling arm in arm was out of the question. We had a few practices and my Dad nailed it!
It’s also quite hard to find inspiration of photos with brides in wheelchairs. When booking a photographer we let them know that I was in a wheelchair. The first time we met with them to discuss our wedding; Hayley from Wild Souls, she had brought along some inspirational photos of couples with the woman in a wheelchair, which was so cool to see. This definitely put my mind at ease because I thought there would be a lot of the ‘classic’ couple poses that we wouldn’t have been able to do.
It's that age old thing of, if you can see it, you can be it!
Picture: Jess Mackay (@jess__mackay)
R: Totally, another thing I am really interested in, because I will be embarking on the journey one day, is the process of finding a wedding dress! Can you chat us through that process and the tips/tricks you might have for other wheelchair using brides either about the dress or otherwise.
J: From the beginning I had a good idea of what I wanted my wedding dress to look like. The biggest challenge was would it actually suit me while sitting down. I didn’t have very high hopes for my first dress try on, so I was surprised when it went better than expected. There were plenty of dresses to choose from but the biggest thing I learnt was that wedding dresses are NOT made to be sat in. Most of the dresses were very fitted, had a lot of layers and were super long, which made me look like I was drowning in fabric. I didn’t find my dream dress in my first try on but it was a very interesting learning experience.
After this I decided my best option was to have something custom made and found the most amazing designer – Alice from Hayes Bridal. Alice was a dream to work with and saw my vision from the beginning. We decided to make a skirt and top combo as I have scoliosis so every dress I tried on twisted slightly and it always pulled it to one side. A skirt would also make it a lot easier for me to use the bathroom. The skirt was made to be fitted around my waist with a zip closure, but every time I went for a try on, it fit me differently around the waist because it never sat in the exact same place. To fix this issue Alice added in a piece of elastic in the waistband and it worked perfectly to help the skirt never fall down. On my second to last fitting I mentioned to Alice I was probably not going to wear my seatbelt during my wedding so it wouldn’t distract from the dress. She suggested she’d make a cover for my seatbelt out of the same material as my dress. So on my next fitting she had a slip that fit perfectly over my seatbelt and it blended perfectly with my dress. You couldn’t even tell that I was wearing my seatbelt!
My biggest piece of advice to brides with disabilities is to not compromise just because something doesn’t work or fit right. There’s always a way for you to be able to have your dream dress, it might just take a bit more work!
Picture: Jess Mackay (@jess__mackay)
R: This makes me so excited for the process, thank you! From here, what are your hopes for the future?
J: Well, at the moment Nick and I are still living in newlywed bliss! In the last 2 years we have been so focused on our house build and then planning our wedding. We would both love to one day start a family together and we are sure there will be many challenges in this that we will have to overcome but I am so incredibly blessed with how supportive Nick and the rest of my family and friends are.
I’d also love to be able to work for myself. My next step would be building my beauty business, doing some courses and trying something other than makeup!
R: I can’t wait to see what’s next for you. My final question would be, what is the biggest misconception about disability you hope would change in future?
J: We are not defined by our disabilities. I am not ‘the girl in the wheelchair’. I am a wife, daughter, sister, aunty, friend, the list goes on. I am far more than my disability and more than just what people see.
Picture: Jess Mackay (@jess__mackay)
Did you know we can make customised clothing here at EveryHuman? Here's groomsman Jayden's custom grey suit.
Picture: Jayden Bosveld (Credit: Jayden Bosveld and Ring Veil Photography)
To find out more about custom clothing, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org