Accommodating Deaf wedding guests

Updated Oct 12 2015
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…

  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.

  11. Hello-
    Thank you very much for all of this great information!! I just wished that Ann Landers would get a hold of this, and pass it on to her readers.
    I am hearing, but have been in the Deaf/deaf Community for 28 years. This is the best information I have read in a very long time!!

  12. Thanks so much for all of the great advice. I am getting married soon and have a few deaf friends I inviting to my wedding and was unsure about exactly what I should do for an interpreter. Now I am confident that a skilled interpreter would be completely worth it. After all, you only get married once and you want all of your friends to enjoy it with you, right?

  13. My Fiance is Deaf and interpreting is playing a huge part of our wedding. We are having a interpreter for our Deaf guests and Bridal party memeber as well as one interpreter who will be commited to only interpreteing for my Fiance during the ceremony as well as a voice interpreter for our hearing guests. For the reception we plan to have 2 interpreters available for announcments, toast and communication between hearing and deaf guests as needed.

  14. As an interpreter I am thrilled to see this often overlooked subject addressed, and so well at that! You covered a lot of points that most wouldn't think to mention, but that anyone planning a wedding WOULD want to know when choosing a course of action.

    Any good interpreter will make sure to meet with the couple and discuss exactly how they wish to have the interpreted information come across; it's their wedding – a very important day and action – and it's important for the deaf person(s) to get the same experience as anyone else. Do make sure to check experience/background in the case of student interpreters (this is fair game with all terps, "experienced" or otherwise), which can still be a viable option if qualified.

    Kudos to Offbeat Bride, a well-rounded and thoughtful site that I am thrilled to have discovered as I plan my less-than-traditional wedding this fall… Many thanks!

  15. How can someone have a good time when they are being excluded? Would you enjoy yourself at a wedding if you weren't provided the opportunity to participate like everyone else? If you couldn't communicate with the other guests, understand the ceremony, laugh at the drunken toasts? Inviting a Deaf friend to your wedding and then not providing an interpreter for the time he or she will be in attendance is like inviting someone and then telling them they have to stand outside during portions of the event that you've decided they don't need to be a part of. If it's important enough for your hearing friends to be in attendance the whole time, its important enough for your Deaf friends to have the opportunity to participate as well. Otherwise, why are you even having the event? Are you going to show your wedding video to people who couldn't attend with the sound off?

  16. I'm currently beginning plans for a June 2010 wedding to my Deaf partner…ditto, we automatically knew we'd have an LSE interpreter (…we're in Spain) but I am certainly getting my thinking cap on as to what where and how it will all go ahead. I will mention one rather difficult aspect we have come up against; my boyfriends family have never taken an interest in learning to sign and we were both dreading the thought of having a huge divide between our guests. Our choice has been to opt for a simple, formal more traditional ceremony on one day with family members (+LSE interpreter) then a more "us" type ceremony (including Handfasting..which will be a challenge…imagine us signing with one hand bound!.. I will let you know how we get around that)..with all out friends, both Deaf and hearing, to celebrate the way we really want to. . One thing that constantly springs to mind for me is visibility. We will think carefully so we don't have Deaf guests feeling uncomfortable craning their necks to see the interpreter…I'm delighted to have found this post and I'll keep all informed of other important aspects that occur to me..

  17. This website is a blessing. I decided to google Deaf Weddings and this website came up…
    I am Deaf and also have Low Vision, My fiance is hearing and learning ASL… We are going to be married October 2, 2010. We are currently trying to figure out what exactly we want to do about interpreters.
    I have ONLY attended Hearing weddings some with interpreters some without.
    I want to make sure that my Deaf guests are 100% included in the wedding because I have been to weddings where I don't understand what's going on and it's tremendously boring!! I would NEVER want my guests to experience that especially since I'm Deaf myself…

    As for me I'm trying to figure out how the interpreter will be placed due to my having very low vision… I want to make sure that I can see my fiance and the interpreter to understand the words and what's being said and what's happening.

    I was able to ask around and have several interpreters who are willing to interpret the wedding as a wedding present to my fiance and me. I am planning to have 2 interpreters.
    I am obviously going to need one with me the whole time, but because of my low vision it will be more work for them… I will also need an interpreter for my Deaf friends who will be attending the wedding.
    I am going to make sure that each interpreter has a copy of the vows, and the words for songs that will be used during the slideshow as well as ANY Other part of the ceramony that will have words including the toast.

    We are having 2 receptions one for ALL of our guest's with cake and punch and a second smaller dinner and dancing reception for our out of town guest's.. Most of my Deaf friends are local and therefore will be attending ONLY the FIRST reception. There are a few Deaf friends who are the exception and will be attending the second reception which will have dinner and dancing…
    I want to make sure that No one feel's left out at either reception!! I am would like to have whichever interpreter is not with me interpret the toast's and things of that nature anything that should require interpreting at the receptions… Any suggestions to make this process go smoothly?

    Thank you in advance.

    • This is an older post, but your wedding is still a little ways away, so I thought I'd share. My cousin's husband is Deaf, as are about 50% of their friends. For their ceremony they had two interpreters – one who stood near the celebrant and interpreted for Matt (her husband), another stood on a chair and interpreted for the guests. Then they were present at the reception – including one who stood by the bar to interpret drink orders for the Deaf guests. I thought this was great – I never would have thought of it myself, but obviously it was very important and I'm sure made the event a lot more enjoyable for the Deaf guests.

  18. This is a great topic! My Aunt and Uncle are deaf and my cousin (who is in highschool) is sort of forced to be an interpreter at many family events. If you can afford it, definately get an interpreter. Not only is it nicer for your guests who are hearing impaired but it's really interesting to watch. It adds something really special to see an interpretation of wedding vows through ASL as it is such a beautiful and expressive language.

  19. I think this is an AMAZING topic! I think we sometimes encounter a situation such as this and aren't sure how to handle it. I often see interpreters at church services and think it's a beautiful addition.

  20. For weddings with deaf or hard of hearing guests, another option might be to hire a CART (Communcations Access Realtime Translation) provider. These are individuals trained on a stenotype machine to type proceedings word-for-word. Often used in classrooms, meetings, and churches, they can provide, essentially, live captioning of the wedding available on a computer screen. The realtime interpretation could be available on a smaller screen positioned in the audience for weddings with a few deaf or hard of hearing guests; a large screen toward the front of the hall/church for weddings with a larger number of guests is another option.

    More information on CART can be found here: http://www.cart-info.org/

  21. One option for finding an interpreter might be to ask around houses of worship in your community. Some have interpreters and they would obviously be comfortable with interpreting formal language and sermons on the fly.

  22. my soon-to-be mother in law is deaf and i wouldn't dream of doing it without an interpreter. she reads lips and communicates extremely well orally (she didn't even learn sign until high school!). being so independent in the hearing world, she doesn't ever ask for an interpreter and never expects accommodations. however, she is such a huge part of us (we've been dating for 5 years, she's practically my second mom) that i will be SURE she can relax and enjoy every moment (and every word) of our wedding like the rest of our parents will.
    quick question…where are people planning on putting their interpreters for guests? i don't want him/her to be too far from us so she won't have to keep looking back and forth.

  23. My husband and I are a bilingual couple (French and English) and we used surtitles (like subtitles, but projected on a screen) for our ceremony, so that no matter what language was being spoken, it was translated into the other language. I would think that this could also work as a low-budget option to an ASL interpreter. It worked wonderfully for us. We liked that it was eco-friendly, didn't single people out as obviously as a translated script might, and with good placement of the screen, it allows for easily looking back and forth between the screen and ceremony action.

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