Bill W. wrote in the book 12 Steps and 12 Traditions:
“It is clear now we ought never to name boards to govern us, but it is equally clear we shall always need to authorize workers to serve us. It is the difference between the spirit of vested authority and the spirit of service, two concepts which are sometimes poles apart. It is in this spirit of service that we elect the AA groups informal rotating committee, intergroup association for the area, and the General Service Conferences of Alcoholics Anonymous for AA as a whole.”
“Just as the aim of each AA member is personal sobriety, the aim of our services is to bring sobriety within the reach of all who want it.”
The AA Deaf Intergroup was founded on Tradition Nine: “AA, as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those who serve.”
What it was like:
The Deaf Intergroup started out as a committee of AA members who worked together to provide accessibility to our AA message for Deaf AA members. Before this, Travis County Deaf and Hard of Hearing services( a professional outside agency that was not part of AA) provided some interpretation for Deaf AA members. Clint R., our past Intergroup Manager, said there were lots of problems because he had no effective ways to communicate with Deaf AA members or potential members, and there were times things didn’t go as planned, between the Deaf friends needing meetings, the interpreters, and the Travis County professionals. Clint said it was frustrating for all.
The District 3b/3C Treatment and Special Needs Chair person at this time was Norma A. and she was designated to share information not only about taking meetings into Treatment facilities, but also sharing information about what was then termed “Special Needs “ alcoholics, all those in AA ’s who had a barrier preventing them from being able to participate in the same way as other AA members. This was about the same time as the AA International Convention in 2000, and it was then that she was introduced to an AA member who wanted sobriety, recovery, and fellowship, but the door had not opened for her here in Austin. As one of our Deaf AA members, she communicated through American Sign Language , and required an interpreter in order to understand what was being said at meetings, and for her to share. But there were other barriers as well, aside from the language difference, other AA members did not see her as another alcoholic. Many focused on the differences and ignored her, out of their own awkwardness. She, however did not give up, she put her sobriety as a priority, and looked for a solution.
This Deaf AA member had learned about the Portland Deaf Access Committee at a workshop on Special Needs at the 2000 International Convention. She brought these new ideas about providing accessibility to Norma A, and asked if it would be possible to do the same thing here in Austin.
Norma A. consulted with two past DCM’s and one current Intergroup Board member, to see what they thought about forming a Deaf Access Committee. The past trusted servants thought an accessibility committee would be good, worked within the traditions, and asked how they could help.
Together, Norma A. and the Deaf AA member, these past DCM’s and several others formed the Deaf Access Committee and appealed to AA groups to contribute a portion of their 7th tradition funds to hire interpreters. This money was pooled together to be used for any Deaf AA member who wanted to go to an AA meeting. This lessened the burden for an individual needing accessibility, or for a single AA group that would be overburdened by a continual expenditure.The local Districts helped by holding on to our funds til we could establish a bank account of our own, and following our progress through reports from the Treatment/Special Needs chair.
Intergroup continued to support us as well, offering us a meeting place in their building, and other resources. Here we must stop and give a huge thanks to Clint R. He watched our initial efforts, had a vision that this would be an effective means of serving AA, and graciously proposed that Intergroup could contribute some funds- enough to help us get started. The
Intergroup board at that time, and the ones that followed, have supported our efforts to meet the needs of our Deaf AA members, not only to have access to AA meetings, but access to the fellowship, to participate and to contribute their experience, strength, and hope.
As we began to organize for service, work out best practices and guidelines for cooperating with other AA entities, establishing relationships with interpreters, and doing Outreach to places where Deaf people in need of recovery may appear, we had to make a decision about who and what we were. Were we a stand-alone committee, like our friends in Portland? Did we think joining the local District would be wise? Could we be part of Intergroup? In the end, we decided, because of our good relationship with Clint R., the Intergroup Manager at the time, and because we functioned much like intergroup-providing information about AA meetings to AA members- that we would ask to join the Hill Country Intergroup Association, as a standing committee of Intergroup, and sent a proposal to the Board. The Board, with Clint’s support, accepted this proposal and we happily became a functioning AA accessibility committee, the Austin Deaf Access Committee, and had a very positive and mutually beneficial association with HCIA for many years.
As Deaf AA members began to share in meetings, things began to change, connections and relationships were formed, and those who were skeptical that providing interpreters was connected to our primary purpose, relented, as scales of pride and prejudice fell from their eyes . The Deaf Access Committee members, composed of both Deaf and hearing AA members, were asked to participate in District workshops, Area conferences, and other events. When one of our Deaf AA Members spoke at our SWTA 68 Area Assembly in 2019, no one doubted that she was an alcoholic, and had earned her chair in the rooms! Many had an increased awareness that perhaps part of our AA fellowship had been marginalized, but more out of ignorance than intent.
Not long after, an article appeared in 2019 Spring issue of Box 459 called “The Hands of AA,” highlighting our history as the Deaf Access Committee, and the talk by our Deaf AA member, which was translated from American Sign Language to English and then to Spanish – a trilingual
interpretation of our AA message of hope- and it was at this assembly that the South West Texas Area, coincidentally, was moved to form an Area- wide Accessibility Committee, whose purpose was to inform AA groups about both the need and resources and shared experience of those AA members who face barriers that are physical, geographical, cultural, linguistic, or anything else that would stand in the way of being able to have access to our AA way of life.Our Districts 3b and 3C followed soon after, and voted unanimously to have a District Accessibility chair.
What it’s like now
Now, after over 8 years of service to AA fellowship, we are no longer
an accessibility committee, but we have “Come of Age” as of October 2018 and have been redefined as a new service entity: the Alcoholics Anonymous Deaf Intergroup of Central Texas. Much like the Spanish Intergroup that serves a linguistic and cultural group of AA members, or the On-line Intergroup of AA, serving geographically isolated members, we function to aid the linguistically and culturally marginalized Deaf AA members that need our support and carry the message to the many who still suffer in and around the same area served by HCIA. The HCIA board fully supported us in this venture and helped us to transition into who we are today, the Alcoholics Anonymous Intergroup of Central Texas!
Once we were fully established, we were welcomed by GSO, with whom we registered as a new Intergroup, and by the South West Texas Area Intergroup liaison as well. The District 3B/3C and the SWTA Accessibilities Chairs both cooperate with us to communicate news about AADI to the AA fellowship, and our website has information for Deaf AA members and for others around the United States and Canada seeking information on how to duplicate our efforts.
A lot of people ask how many Deaf AA members come to meetings? The answer is, the amount that want to stay sober today, and just like the anyone in AA, that can change from day to day. Here in Central Texas,
we can say that “when anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, “ the hand of AA is there. We now not only have interpreted AA meetings, but a new AA group has formed that is conducted solely in American Sign Language, no interpreter needed. This would never have happened without our needed service that allowed Deaf AA members to get to know one another and organize a new AA group for those who know American Sign Language.
Who knows? We know no one is surprised to see an interpreter at local meetings anymore, and more Deaf AA members are sharing their experience, strength, and hope. Our service is not only for Deaf AA members to benefit from our experiences, but for others to benefit from theirs. Perhaps we will one day have a Deaf District. It is easy to predict there will be more ASL AA meetings in the future, as we grow. More AA members are starting to learn American Sign Language, and more Deaf people are coming to meetings, some driving for over an hour to be with a group of people they feel like they belong to. Awareness of the need for accessibility is occurring all over, as our Regional Assemblies, International Conventions and other AA gatherings are now offering interpreters.Stories of Deaf AA members and resources in American Sign Language are being developed to allow for the respect and dignity that truly qualifies us to be a fellowship of equals. Things are changing.
As Bill W. said,
“Let us never fear needed change.Certainly we have to discriminate between changes for the worse and changes for the better, but once a need becomes clearly apparent, in an individual, a group, or AA as a whole, we cannot stand still and look the other way.The essence of growth is a willingness to change for the better and then an unremitting willingness to shoulder the responsibility.”