Rethinking Unplugged Ceremonies

unplugged ceremonies

Let’s talk about how “unplugged” and phone-free wedding ceremonies can be ableist and need to be reconsidered.

It’s not rare for officiants to remind guests to put away their cell phones or to see chalkboard announcements for an unplugged ceremony. Phones can be distracting, which is why it’s understandable that unplugged ceremonies have become popularized.

Most people don’t think twice about the privilege of being able to put away their mobile devices. But for deaf and disabled people, phones can offer a lifeline, especially in social situations like wedding ceremonies, and doubly so during a pandemic.

For many, these devices are accessibility aids. From diabetics who use their phones to track their blood sugar to guests with epilepsy who set up medication alerts. Phones can transcribe ceremonies into captions for deaf and hard of hearing guests. They’re especially important to help non-verbal folks communicate. They can busy hands when anxiety creeps up or take photos to enlarge to see details guests can’t see otherwise.

Being on our phones and taking photos to capture memories can offer a much-needed respite. For queer guests who are unexpectedly reunited with homophobic relatives, phones can be an escape into life-saving support or a tool to aid mindfulness and distraction.

You may be thinking, okay sure, but unplugged weddings aren’t singling those people out, they’re talking about Uncle Bobs, who won’t put down the DSLR and get out of the damn aisle.

When we uphold these guidelines and create exceptions, we make it easier to shame–and even harass–guests who are enhancing their memories by being on their devices.

unplugged ceremonies

Noting the nuance in it all

It’s important to note that there’s nuance in all of this. For instance, Autistic marriers or ceremony speakers with sensory processing challenges may find that phones add a stressful disruption to an already fast-paced day.

Accommodating competing access needs can be hard—there’s no way to make an event accessible to all. I’d like to encourage us to reconsider the need to kindly ban technology to create a picture-perfect mold of a wedding day. Instead, let’s strive less for perfection and more for accessibility.

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