About Special Needs
While there are no special A.A. members, many members have special needs. For the purpose of those Guidelines, we define A.A.s with special needs as persons who are blind or visually impaired; deaf or hard of hearing; chronically ill or homebound, and those who are developmentally disabled.
Special Needs Committees
Some A.A. entities are attempting to meet such needs by forming Special Needs Committees. Since the goal is to make A.A. accessible, some committees refer to themselves as Accessibilities Committees. In some localities committees name themselves according to the specific need addressed, such as "Hearing Impaired Committee." When one or more members of a group have special needs (such as the need for an American Sign Language interpreter or wheelchair accessibility, or have an illness which prevents them from getting to the meeting room), A.A. members from that group will attempt to see that those needs are met. The members of a Special Needs Committee explore, develop and offer resources to make the A.A. message and participation in our program available to everyone who reaches out for it. A G.S.O. staff member who serves on the Special Needs assignment, is available as a resource and communicates with local Special Needs Committees.
In the interests of good communication and working together, Special Needs Committees are encouraged to keep their area committees and local Central/Intergroup offices informed of their activities. It is also helpful to work closely with committees handling Public Information and Cooperation With the Professional Community in terms of keeping the public and appropriate agencies informed about A.A. being accessible to alcoholics with special needs.
What Special Needs does and what you can do to help
Special needs is not just about wheelchair bound people, but also about people with other disabilities such as physically disabled, deaf and hearing impaired, blind and visually impaired, learning and reading impaired, seniors and homebound. Others include those with language barriers and single parents requiring childcare.
How we serve these people is to provide interpreters for meetings and events, as well as Braille AA literature, audio material, programs for special needs, and rides in special cases. We encourage wheelchair accessible meetings/events and big book tape study meetings in each district. The list goes on: assist the physically disabled at events; encourage groups to provide childcare; update special needs information in meeting directories (and on-line!); bring meetings into homes, hospital or long-term care facilities; encourage districts and groups to support meetings in special needs facilities; provide literature and workshops on special needs; explore other special needs; and work with GSO and other districts and areas.
As you can see special needs has a very broad range of responsibilities. The Area Special Needs Committee needs each district's help in the form of a designated individual who carries the message to the groups within each district. This is a big job but together I am confident that everyone who needs and wants the message of hope that Alcoholics Anonymous offers will have the chance to hear it.
"When anyone anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to be there. And for that I am responsible."
Meeting Place Accomodations
- Always unlock wheelchair entrance door(s) when unlocking main entrance.
- Keep wheelchair ramps and/or entrances clear of any obstacle's which may hinder access.
- Space chairs and tables with adequate room for individuals with mobility devices to maneuver around the meeting area freely (without assistance).
Place coffee pots back from the end of tables In a position where a cup will slide under the spout and rest on the table.
- Have microphone/amplifier available for chair persons, speakers & readers (seldom is a non amplified voice loud enough for an individual who has a hearing problem).
- Be open to the possibility of having certified sign interpreter for an individual who is hearing impaired.
- Try to set up the meeting the same way each week e.g. (arrange seating, speaker podium, coffee pots, in the same place each meeting). If you move and reorganize things, it's only hiding whatever has been moved to a blind or vision impaired individual.
- Freely offer rides to and from meetings when possible (reasons are obvious).
Don't interfere if an individual with disability is doing a task for his or her self (even if it may look awkward to you. It is O. K to ask if he or she needs help, rather than just jump in and take over.
- When closing a meeting, have the chairperson ask everyone to stand in place and Say the "Lord's Prayer" (more often than not. It is unnecessarily difficult for a person with disability to join in on a circle around the room)... .
Catalogue of AA Material for Special Needs
A catalog of A.A. material lists a wide range of literature and audio-visual material for alcoholics with special needs. For the blind and visually impaired there is recovery literature in Braille and large print, as well as audio tapes. Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are available in American Sign Language (ASL) on VHS videos for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Carrying the Message to Members with Physical Disabilities or Chronic Illness
Many A.A. members are hard of hearing or deaf, visually impaired or blind, brain injured, confined to their beds with a chronic illness, or use wheelchairs, walkers or crutches. Members of a group may feel stymied when first faced with these out-of-the-ordinary requirements but, in fact, there are many accommodations which can be made so that alcoholics with special needs can be active, participating members of a "regular" group. Some adjustments are simple and some are more complicated-but all are possible for the member willing to"go to any lengths" for his or her own sobriety and to help another alcoholic.
Often A.A.s will take a meeting to an A.A. member who is home- or house-bound. "I can't tell you," one hospitalized A.A. reported, "what a difference it made in my mental and emotional state when those six people showed up in my room carrying the message of A.A. and all the love and support of our Fellowship. And they did it twice a week for three months, until I was able to make meetings again! I was so down in the dumps before; I really had sort of given up-and, to be honest, I had started thinking I might as well have a drink, since I was dying anyway. But hearing the experience, strength and hope of others in the program inspired me to fight both my illnesses- the cancer and my alcoholism. I don't know what I would have done without A.A. at that low point in my life."
For members who aren't confined to bed, A.A.s in their group often drive them to and from meetings, install wheelchair ramps over steps to the meeting room, and arrange the room so that there is ample space for wheelchairs or walkers. It is important to identify meetings accessible for wheelchair users in local meeting schedules.
Services and material available for members who are chronically ill and/or have limited ambulatory ability include the Loners/Internationalist Meeting (LIM), a newsletter for A.A. members who are in isolated areas, at sea, or home- or hospital-bound (known as Homers) and stay in touch with other members by mail and newsletters. A similar publication (not through G.S.O.) is World Hello, an international correspondence group. Many A.A.s share via computer bulletin boards and on-line meetings. You may contact the On-line Intergroup of A.A. (email@example.com) for further information. Alcoholics Anonymous, and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are also available on 3.5" diskettes and CDs that run in Microsoft Windows. G.S.O. has a service piece, "Tapes for Sale and Exchange," that lists distributors of taped A.A. talks, and the A.A. Grapevine has a series of popular audiocassettes on A.A. subjects.
Carrying the Message to the Deaf or Hearing-impaired
For members who are deaf or hard of hearing, the use of a skilled interpreter in American Sign Language (ASL) is encouraged. The Special Needs Committee can compile and maintain a list of meetings where ASL interpreters are available, as well as a list of ASL interpreters who are willing and able to sign at A.A. functions. The cost of ASL interpreters is a factor for many groups. In some areas, the intergroup or district committees provide financial assistance and/or help coordinate efforts to make signed meetings available.
Some intergroup/central offices have TTY (Teletypewriter or Text Telephone) machines to enable the deaf member to readily contact the A.A. community. Those who do not have them use the Telecommunications Relay Service, which is offered in most communities. Either way, there should be some training in the use of this equipment so that the communication will be as smooth as possible for all concerned. They might also keep a list of deaf or hard of hearing A.A. members who have TTY machines and would like to network with members.
If a deaf member comes to your group, put them in touch with someone who is willing to keep in touch through the TTY or Relay Service. It is also helpful, when speaking, to look directly at the deaf or hard of hearing member, since many are able to read lips. A.A. groups with the help of local central office/intergroup or district or area committees can initiate efforts to start new A.A. groups or meetings that are more accessible to deaf or hard of hearing members.
Services and material available for the deaf and hearing impaired include the Intergroup/Central Offices Directory (those with TTY equipment are noted); and a 5- volume 1/2" VHS video of Alcoholics Anonymous in ASL. Pamphlets rewritten for the deaf or hearing-impaired alcoholic include "A Deaf Newcomer Asks," "A Brief Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous" "Translation of the Twelve Steps," "Translation of the Twelve Traditions," and "Is A.A. For You?" Deaf members are welcome to participate in the LIM. There is also an International Deaf Group by Mall listed under "Special International Contacts" in the regional directories published by G.S.O. For more detailed information see the A.A. Guidelines on Carrying the A.A. Message to the Deaf Alcoholic.
One A.A. member reminded us that, in carrying the message to the deaf alcoholic, "Try not to treat them as different or special, but allow them freedom to participate in a typical A.A. meeting.
"The main thing to remember is that deaf alcoholics have the same problem as anyone else. While we and they may come up with a thousand reasons why they are different, let's emphasize over and over "Don't drink; Keep coming back."
For the purpose of these guidelines we will use the term "deaf." There are other people who are hard of hearing, either permanently or temporarily. People who are deaf or hard of hearing are all unique, and there is a variety of ways to communicate with them: sign language, speechreading, writing, typing, and TTY, for example.
Often, sign language is the most effective way to communicate, and many groups use sign language interpreters to help carry the message to deaf members. In a pinch, you can try writing back and forth. But keep in mind that English is not the first language of many deaf people-sign language is! So, whenever possible, use sign language-either directly or through an interpreter. If you do have to write, keep it simple and brief. Encourage the newcomer to take A.A. Iiterature and invite them to come to another meeting. A smile, a handshake and a cup of coffee speak "the language of the heart," which we can all hear.
SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS
If there is a need for an interpreter try to arrange to have a sign language interpreter at the meetings that deaf alcoholics attend. The deaf member may be able to bring an interpreter. If not, try to make arrangements through a local agency or check with your local special needs committee, intergroup or central office, general service district or area committee to see if they have any experience with the situation.
Qualified interpreters are professional people who charge fees for their services. Experience suggests that most groups will agree to having a non-A.A. attend its closed meetings to act as interpreter for the deaf alcoholic. Professional ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters adhere to a strict code of ethics, which assures the confidentiality of the A.A. meeting.
Some A.A. groups cover this expense. Sometimes an agency will take care of the expense. On occasion, local area committees, districts, and central/intergroup offices have authorized payment for interpreters. Professional interpreters who are also A.A. members sometimes are willing to volunteer their services. Occasionally advanced students of interpreting will do the job at no fee for the experience gained. Be careful of placing too much reliance on volunteers, as deaf members rely on these services and there should be stability in whether the meeting is interpreted or not.
Experience shared with G.S.O. indicates that numerous areas have formed Special Needs Committees and this experience seems to indicate that these committees can be a partial solution to funding the cost of signers. Groups are encouraged to contribute and designate funds for these committees. Sometimes a group will pay half of the cost for interpreters with the fund providing the other half.
Whatever arrangements are made should be based on a group conscience decision arrived at after full discussion at a business meeting. Is the group willing to cover the expense of this service, or does it wish to appoint someone to contact the central office or a professional agency about providing an interpreter? In order to welcome the deaf person and the interpreter and make the newcomer feel that he or she is an important addition to the group, it is important that a full consensus on these points be reached in advance. The interpreters should be introduced to the group before meetings.
Initially it may be difficult to convey feelings through another person, so try to communicate as directly as possible. It is important to have the deaf person's attention before speaking. He or she may need a wave of the hand, a tap on the shoulder or some sort of signal that you wish to communicate. Many deaf people have some training or experience in speechreading (also known as lipreading). However, this varies widely with individuals. Effective speechreading also requires very specific conditions: the speaker should not be chewing gum or eating, should not have an accent or a mustache, and there should be no back lighting. If a deaf person indicates that he or she can speechread, try to follow these guidelines. Also, speak slowly and clearly, but don't exaggerate. Look directly at the person while speaking.
If you are called on to read something while an interpreter is signing, read slowly and clearly. Try to furnish the interpreter with the text beforehand, as formal writing is more difficult to interpret quickly.
OTHER FORMS OF COMMUNICATION
More and more dedicated A.A. members are committing themselves to learning sign language in order to be more effective in communicating with the deaf A.A. member. Some become proficient and are able to work with the deaf alcoholic as sponsors. Others learn enough to greet and encourage the member to keep coming back. Those A.A. members who do not know sign language can still communicate with our deaf friends by telephone. Some deaf people have TTY (Teletypewriter or Text Telephone) equipment which allows them to communicate not only with those with similar devices, but with the aid of a Telephone Relay Systems operator, they can communicate with anyone. Information on this service can be found in the front section of your phone book under "Services for People With Disabilities." Give the deaf newcomer the same care and concern that we would a hearing newcomer. If there is a Twelfth Step call to be made, it is not necessary that both members be able to sign. We must remember that our A.A. experience is the most important thing we have to share
Many area, district and intergroup/central office newsletters publish information about groups for the deaf. Meeting lists should note which meetings are interpreted.
SHARING BY MAIL
The International Deaf Group by Mail, listed in the front of all A.A. directories, and the Loners/Internationalist Meeting (LIM), a bimonthly A.A. meeting by mail, are other ways for deaf alcoholics to share their experience, strength and hope with others. Some deaf members are in active communication through e-mail and online A.A. meetings. One source for further information is the On-line Intergroup of A.A.
CATALOG OF A.A. MATERIAL FOR SPECIAL NEEDS
A catalog of A.A. material lists a wide range of literature and audio-visual material for alcoholics with special needs.
Some A.A. literature cited as being most helpful for deaf alcoholics includes: "Twelve Traditions Illustrated," "Twelve Steps Illustrated," "Is A.A. for Me?," "It Happened to Alice," "What Happened to Joe?," and the A.A. Grapevine magazine. In addition, in response to requests for simplified material, the following material is available in easy-to-read language: "Twelve Steps," "Twelve Traditions," "A Brief Guide to A.A.," "A Deaf Newcomer Asks," and "Is A.A. for You?"
ASL VIDEO CASSETTES
Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book, and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are available in American Sign Language (ASL) on video cassette.
In addition, the videos "Young People and A.A.," "Hope: Alcoholics Anonymous," "A.A.-Rap With Us," and "It Sure Beats Sitting in a Cell" are all closed-captioned for the deaf. All the G.S.O. television public service announcements are captioned for the deaf.
A.A. EVENTS AND CONFERENCES
Deaf A.A. members may need a few special considerations when attending an A.A. event. For those who have a fair amount of hearing and/or who read lips, seating near the speaker may be all that is required. Others who are deaf may require the use of a sign language interpreter. Here are some points to consider when planning a conference or meeting that will be attended by deaf A.A.s.
- Reserve interpreters well ahead of time because they are in great demand.
- Budget the interpreting expenses. Find out early what the estimated cost will be, whether by the hour or by the day. If you are holding concurrent workshops, you may need more than one interpreter. If your event is small (and short) you may be fortunate to find a qualified volunteer, but do not expect to rely on volunteers.
- In designating preferred seating for deaf members, cordon off the reserved area and clearly indicate "Please reserve for deaf members," and ask that people refrain from walking in front of the section as it will cause the deaf members to be cut off from the speaker and the interpreter.
- Sensitize workshop leaders and meeting chairpersons to the use of the interpreter. In this way, those members who depend on the interpreter will not be deprived of opening remarks or keynote speakers.
- Stick with your plans once you have announced that an event is to be interpreted. Deaf people are very likely to travel far for the few events that are interpreted. If the event has concurrent meetings and workshops, plan for the availability of at least one interpreter per time block. Ask the deaf participants at the outset which workshops they plan to attend.
- If you are listing the event with the General Service Office, your local intergroup/central office or in any A.A. publication, specify that it is sign language interpreted. If possible, have a TTY. number that deaf people can call for more information.
A G.S.O. staff member who serves on the Special Needs assignment is available as a resource and facilitates communication among local Special Needs Committees. They ensure that inquiries from and about deaf alcoholics are given the proper information and are referred to the local A.A. committee for further action.
For information on TTY equipment please check the Central Offices/lntergroup Directory, which indicates those central offices with these special machines.
We encourage you to keep us informed of your experience in trying to carry the message to deaf alcoholics, so that we can continue to improve our services in this area. We look forward to hearing from you, and wish you good luck in carrying the message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
from "A.A. Guidelines/Carrying the Message to the Deaf Alcoholic"
Blind or Visually Impaired
For A.A. members who are blind or visually impaired, simply getting to the meeting room can be the biggest problem. The Special Needs Committee can compile and maintain a list of sighted members who are willing to provide transportation to and from meetings and other A.A. functions. Several groups have asked their local central office or intergroup to code Twelfth Step lists to identify members who are willing to provide transportation. Volunteers may be recruited to guide the blind or visually impaired newcomer to chairs, the hospitality table and rest rooms, until that member is acquainted with the surroundings. Meeting rooms should always be set up exactly the same way, or else the blind or visually impaired members should be alerted to what's different. Banging into a chair or a table in what was empty space at the prior meeting can be both dangerous and embarrassing.
Services and material available to help the blind or visually impaired alcoholic include books and pamphlets available in Braille, in large print, and/or on audiocassette tape, and a list of suppliers of A.A. talks for sale or exchange.
Easy to Read Literature
Some alcoholics are unable to take advantage of the wealth of supportive and informative literature in A.A. If you become aware that a member might have a limited ability to read, there are several ways to be helpful without embarrassing him or her.
For instance, when your group's literature chairperson announces which books and pamphlets are available at that meeting, he or she can also mention the numerous books, pamphlets and Grapevine articles which are available on audiotape. Or, if you think a member of your group might have limited reading skills, you can structure your Step and Traditions meetings so that the Step or Tradition is read aloud at the beginning of the meeting-which is great for everyone!
Services and material available to help developmentally disabled A.A.s include audio and video cassettes; a list of suppliers of A.A. talks for sale or exchange; illustrated, easy-to-read literature, such as "Is A.A. For Me?," ">Twelve Steps Illustrated," "Too Young?," "What Happened to Joe," "It Happened to Alice," "It Sure Beats Sitting in a Cell."
Inventory Accessibility Checklists
10/04/08: We have created PDF files of accessibility features of the meetings in more than half of the districts in our
Links to the checklists can be found on most District main pages of this website. These files were compiled from the results of Special Needs inventory packets given to each DCM at the March '08 Assembly. The GSRs should have filled them out to the best of their abilities.
This inventory will benefit those with special needs by making existing resources readily available to those who need them. We are reaching toward our goal that each group in the state will be able to find a Braille big book locally, assist a hard of hearing group member, or help a disabled member get to a wheelchair accessible meeting. Also, it will allow us to find the groups that bring meetings to homebound senior citizens, big books on tape, sign language interpreters, and those who speak a foreign language.
If you find old information on the checklist for your District, ask your DCM if you can be of service to complete the accessibility inventory of the groups and meeting places. It takes all of us to complete an assessment of what is out there already in your groups, and what may be needed in the several areas of our area. You may download the Inventory Form and Wheelchair Requirements at each link.