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Serving Alcoholics With Special Needs

Alcoholics Anonymous Guidelines

While there are no special Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) members, many members have special needs. For the purpose of these 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 home-bound, and those who are developmentally disabled.

Committees: Some A.A. entities are attempting to meet special 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. When one or more members of a group have special needs, 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.

Delivering the Message: Many A.A. members have hearing or visual impairments, brain injuries, are confined to bed with chronic illnesses, or use wheelchairs, walkers or crutches, but there are many accommodations that can be made so that alcoholics with special needs can be active, participating members of a "regular" group. Often A.A.s will take a meeting to a member who is housebound. 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.

Blindness/Vision Impairment: 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. 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. Services and material available to help the blind or visually impaired alcoholic include books and pamphlets in braille, large print and/or on audiocassette, and a list of suppliers of A.A. talks for sale or exchange.

Deafness/Hearing Impairment: The Special Needs Committee can compile and maintain a list of meetings where American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters are available, as well as a list of those who are willing and able to sign at A.A. functions. 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, or use the Telecommunications Relay Service, which is offered in most communities. 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 other hearing-impaired members. Services and material available for this special-needs group include a 5-volume ?" VHS video of Alcoholics Anonymous in ASL, and pamphlets rewritten for reading and signing purposes, such as "A Newcomer Asks," "A Brief Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous," "Translation of the Twelve Steps," "Translation of the Twelve Traditions," "Is A.A. for You," "Do You Think You're Different," "How It Works," "This is A.A.," and "Is A.A. for Me?"

Chronic Conditions/Limited Mobility: Services and material available for those who are chronically ill and/or have limited ambulatory ability include: the Loners/Internationalist Meeting, a newsletter for members who are in isolated areas or home- or hospital-bound; the publication World Hello, an international correspondence group; online bulletin boards and meetings (contact the Online Intergroup of A.A. at intergroup-approval@worldstd.com); Alcoholics Anonymous, the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions on computer diskette.

Easy-to-Read Literature: If you become aware that a member might have a limited ability to read, there are several ways to be helpful. 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 materials available on audiotape. Or 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 for developmentally disabled A.A.s include audio and video cassettes; 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, and "It Sure Beats Sitting in a Cell."

General Special-Needs Guidelines: Respect for the dignity of others has to be the foundation for all our efforts to carry the message to alcoholics with special needs, with emphasis on identification rather than on how we are different. The goal is to include all alcoholics in the wonderful experience of belonging to a group and partaking of a full range of benefits of membership. By accommodating special needs, group fellowship grows stronger, the person with special needs is included and respected as a fully participating member of the group, and everyone's sobriety is strengthened. When faced with the challenges of accommodating a special need, we would do well to remember: "When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that, I am responsible."

Adapted with permission of A.A. World Services Inc. from: http://www.aa-quebec.org/region88/angl_fichiers/mg-16_servingalcoholics.pdf