The Wedding Industry is Ableist: Let’s Challenge These “Norms”

self-portrait, ableism, wedding industry
The wedding industry is ableist. From venues that push disabled people out by not opening doors to them, to clients who expect vendors to be invincible — ableism, like many other isms in the wedding industry, should be challenged.

I’ve been asked “what happens if you get sick and you can’t photograph my wedding?” by potential clients dozens of times over the past +10 years. Years ago, I used to boast about how I’d never missed a wedding and even worked while having pneumonia a handful of times.

After perfect attendance for years, I found myself having a baby during peak wedding season, along with unexpected brain surgery two years later. This meant leaning on my network of photographer friends to pass the work along to them. I’ve always been incredibly transparent with clients, since so much of my business is sharing myself so we can build trust.

Recently, I had a call with a bride and we were chatting about the logistics of her upcoming microwedding. She asked if I’d ever missed a wedding for being sick, and I shared that I had to hand over some work to a dear friend last year, since I couldn’t lift anything for 6 weeks after my surgery. I have a back-up plan that has always made me feel secure, so I assured her that she’d be in good hands no matter what happens.

I could feel the change in her voice after sharing this with her, like she was disappointed in my humanity. The excitement turned into a quick wind-down with pleasantries and an email that followed, letting me know they were going in another direction.

There are many articles for engaged folks who are planning their wedding, with questions to ask potential photographers. I don’t blame people for inquiring about a backup plan in the worst-case scenario, in fact, I think it’s smart. But, to set these expectations that we as vendors aren’t humans — who get sick, who may be chronically ill, or disabled — is ableist behavior.

Pushing through pain and fatigue is part of any physical job to a certain extent, but we shouldn’t have to fear sharing our vulnerabilities. I have friends who have had gigs taken away from them because their main shooter wanted someone younger, healthier, “better.” There’s always this feeling that I’m going to soon “age out” of the wedding industry as a photographer. I think much of that is my fear of no longer being relevant. My grey hair catching up to me. The age spots under my eyes revealed.

If you’ve ever felt this way — like you have to hide your migraine behind a forced smile or your panic attack behind a mask — you are not alone. These are not failures. There are so many of us working while chronically ill or disabled, and that in and of itself is activism.

As a reminder, disabled people still don’t have marriage equality. Upon marriage, disabled folks will lose access to supplemental security income (and often health insurance) unless the couples’ combined assets are under $3,000. SSI is important because disabled people have the highest unemployments rates, have a hard time finding and keeping jobs, and are often paid less than minimum wage legally. Because of this, some disabled people don’t have the ability to marry and have twice the average divorce rate.

Let’s keep pushing to make safer spaces for marginalized communities.

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