Accommodating Deaf wedding guests

Guest post by Echo Greenlee
Photo by Bert Heymans
I have two friends, one is going deaf, the other is about 97% deaf.

How should I accommodate them at our wedding?

Should I hire an interpreter or have a friend do it?

Any ideas? -April

Great question! All Deaf and hard of hearing people have different needs. If your Deaf guests are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), most likely they would like to have an ASL Interpreter at the wedding. You've invited them, so it would make sense that you want them to participate equally in your awesome day.

The Deaf person will always best know their needs. The single most important thing you can do is ask your Deaf guest what kind of assistance they need in making sure they are equally included. Here are a few ideas of items you may want to discuss or bring up with your Deaf guest:

  • Will a seat up front be sufficient? Some Deaf individuals don't sign and prefer to speech-read as much as possible. Keep in mind that only 30% of speech is visible to even the best speech-readers, so this may or may not be acceptable to your Deaf guest.
  • Will giving your Deaf guest a script of the vows/sermon be sufficient?
  • Would an ASL interpreter be ideal? Does the ‘terp need to stay the entire wedding and ceremony? Think about how important each aspect of your wedding is to you and to your guest. They may care about the sermon/vows, but not the about the drunken speeches.
  • Interpreters can be costly. Who's responsible for paying? Is it possible to find a volunteer interpreter? If cost is an issue, you may want to consider having the interpreter there only for the parts you and your guest think are essential or check your local community college. They may have an Interpreters training program and student's who can volunteer. And don't worry, the interpreter doesn't need to be standing directly in front of you and your future spouse nor in between you, nor do they need to be visible to the entire group of guests.

I attended the wedding of Offbeat Bride's founder, Ariel. She gave me a Word document with her and Dre's vows. She made me swear not to read it until the very moment of the ceremony. But I knew I wouldn't be able to watch and read at the same time — it would have made me miss the very important visuals and non verbal communication between bride & groom. So I cheated and found a quiet space on the ferry ride over and read it by myself on my way to the wedding. I'm so glad I did because it was so beautiful watching the ceremony…

Comments on Accommodating Deaf wedding guests

  1. thanks so much for these tips!! i have a deaf friend who will be attending the wedding and it is great to be able to make him feel more included in our special day!

  2. Great post! My parents are Deaf and I’ve been talking with them about whether to rely on my sister to interpret, which would be more meaningful (and free!), but it would limit her from watching the ceremony or being fully involved in the festivities.

    My Mom can lipread and converse decently with most hearing people, but my Dad cannot. A few of their Deaf friends will also be coming, but I want everyone to be able to mingle freely instead of “deaf over here / hearing over there.”

    I think we’ll be hiring an interpreter for the rehearsal dinner and reception, but having my sis interpret the ceremony. People are inevitably drawn to watching the interpreter, so its great if it can be someone special to the couple and their family!!

    My sister will standing up with us during the ceremony anyway the only other member of the bridal party (small wedding). That’s asking a lot of her, but I think she can manage!

    I’m curious what solutions other bilingual families have come up with…

    • I know this is an old post now but if people are interested my cousin married into a spanish family, where the older family members spoke no english at all.

      We effectively had 2 ceremonies simultaneously, things were said in english and then repeated in spanish. It was beautiful to just let the words wash over you, and it didn’t distract from the anything either.

  3. Great tips. This is something not a lot of people have to think about, and as a result it’s never talked about in most “wedding etiquette.” Thanks for providing this!

  4. Please, do NOT get a student interpreter for such an occasion. Yes they may be free, but they also do not have the experience and knowledge to handle such a formal event and with the possibilities for frozen text.

    If you do want a student interpreter, look for one who is working on her practicum, and possibly under a mentor, not one who has only taken a few ASL classes.

    • I second this. Interpreting is very difficult and even being fluent in ASL is not enough training to be a good interpreter.

      Also, you really shouldn’t get a student in an interpreting program because they are not allowed to act as interpreters until they finish their degrees and go through a whole certification process.

      Another option could be c-print or some other captioning system. This is a great resource when your deaf/HOH guests don’t know ASL.

      If you do decide to go with an interpreter, also keep in mind with time that if you need one for over an hour you may have to get a second one too. We usually have ASL interpreters in my classes and they typically have 2 interpreters for a 2 hour class but only 1 for a one hour one.

  5. If you do hire an interpreter, provide them with a script of the entire ceremony beforehand, including the vows.

    We had a deaf student in one of my grad classes and we always emailed our presentations to the interpreter ahead of time. That way they can prep ahead of time, especially if there are readings, etc. that may have names or words that are “out of the ordinary”. Additionally it is sometimes hard for the audience to hear everything that is being said so this will help them not to miss anything.

  6. Jen… Awesome analysis and plan to utilize your sister during the times when your family & friends may enjoy seeing her participate. Just be sure your sis (the one who will miss out watching the ceremony) is ok with her duties… 🙂

  7. Hi Tracy.

    I completely agree with you. Requesting a student interpreter should only be used as a last resort. Our local Interpreters Training Program refuses to send students with less than 2 years of ASL study to volunteer jobs in the community and they are generally the best person to determine whether a student is skilled enough to be placed on the paticular assignment.

    So, for those who must result to student interpreters, do your homework and make sure this their skill is satisfactory to your Deaf guests.

  8. Personally, I think it best to provide a printout to everyone in attendance (massive 500-guest weddings aside). My cousin’s wife is Deaf, and I would hate to make her feel set aside or draw attention to her as being “different” if she was the only one with a printout.

    Besides, I have been to so many weddings where I couldn’t hear the entire ceremony and had no idea how meaningful or traditional/offbeat the vows even were. And a mic-ed sound system would be a real pain in an open, outdoor ceremony. So I think that for our wedding we will just have a printout for everyone to take home with them and cherish forever…or recycle the next day. Ha.

  9. Thanks for covering this topic! My fiance’s parents are both deaf, as are several of our guests. We’re having a NAD certified interpreter for the ceremony and the first part of the reception (to cover all the toasts). We’re also making a more substantial program than they have at most weddings so we can include the full text of our ceremony and the lyrics to our first dance song. We figure it will help the deaf guests feel included, but also be a nice memento for the hearing guests too.

  10. I am Deaf. I’ve been to several weddings… Here is my experience.

    The ‘hearing’ weddings I have been to have been SO boring. I sat through the ceremony not knowing what was being said, and why everyone was laughing/crying/applauding (as it obviously wasn’t the end of it) etc..

    The ‘Deaf’ weddings I have been to have been so much fun. I really got involved, laughed, cried and completely enjoyed myself.

    I noticed that ‘Deaf’ weddings always had an interpreter for the hearing people and the ‘hearing’ weddings NEVER had an interpreter. This includes both ceremony and reception. As a result, I rarely accept invitations to ‘hearing’ weddings – if they don’t think enough of me to invite an interpreter, then they won’t miss me at the wedding!

    For our wedding, it was an automatic decision to involve an interpreter, and we thought long and hard about who we would want to terp for us. We knew this person had to be important, compassionate and a true representative of us. She/he also had to be really good. When we decided on an interpreter, we approached her and she was delighted to accept. She later waived the fee for the wedding as she felt she could give her services to us as a gift.

    Trust me when I say that your Deaf guests will feel so special and honoured if you approach them and ask about accommodating them for speeches, etc. It would make your wedding one of the most memorable ones for them, and it would make you feel good to know they are as equally involved as everyone else.

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