American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreting Resources

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Signs of Drug Use Cover.

Signs of Drug Use

by James Woodward

Interpreting AA
(and other 12-step) Meetings

by Kayla E.J. Kirkpatrick

Decmeber 10, 1999



Although it happens frequently in society today, it is still abnormal for a person to have a problem with drinking requiring outside help. Further, there is stigma among the general public towards people who cannot handle their drinking. This is usually attributed to negative behaviors people engage in when they drink too much.

Alcoholics Anonymous has it's own cultural norms and values. Collectively, the group believes self-diagnosis is the only real diagnosis; in self-diagnosis, there is a recognition and realization of the problem, and only then can a person work towards the solution. A person is considered to be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous after they declare themselves a member, and this is a norm for the group. It would be difficult to learn all the rules and language of the group after just one meeting.

Topic Selection Process

It was not difficult to select my topic. I have a personal interest in the substance abuse/recovery field. On a deeper level, I am interested because I have seen the influence Alcoholics Anonymous has had on the lives of suffering alcoholics, and the hope and solution it has to offer. I am also aware that there are few interpreters willing and available to interpret in this setting. Recently, this severe need was even recognized by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing when they made the opportunity available for non-screened, non-certified interpreters to work and get paid in this setting.


Alcoholics Anonymous is a sub-culture within the general American population. AA has its own values, specialized language, text materials, and goals. The most important goal of this high context society is to fully abstain from alcohol consumption, but there is a fundamentally deeper meaning to 'sobriety' for AA members. This paper provides and overview of the various types of meetings, and the course of a "typical" AA meeting: the setting, scene, participants and discourse, shared goals, sequence of events, key, channels, norms of interaction, and genre. Following, a meeting with the addition of a Deaf person and an interpreter is discussed focusing on the same issues. Finally, the influence and ramifications of the additions in the presentation of the scenarios are presented and specifically discussed.

It is the writer's hope that the reader walks away with the realization that interpreting in a 12-step meeting is not the low-language-level task it is often perceived to be. There are inherent challenges that are deeply rooted in this environment, and this job must be taken very seriously. Preparation is a must: reading the Big Book, watching it on videotape (it takes up five 8-hour videotapes), learning how AA members talk, and then how Deaf AA members talk, and more. According to Deaf AA members, Deaf people in recovery depend on AA meetings and the interpreted meeting the same way they would entering an emergency room. However, results are generally not seen quickly, which can be frustrating for the interpreter.

Research Process

The writer's goal in researching 12-step meetings is to find out the truth. The way AA is portrayed on TV, and the experience of AA members is very different. What is the truth? What actually happens there? And if it is anonymous, how would the people feel about an interpreter attending? The results are that TV has a lot to learn about AA. There is so much more to it than is ever shown!

Research was done through observations, interviews with members, both hearing and Deaf, interviews with interpreters who work in this setting, and through collecting and reading related literature. Research was done very carefully, as to be respectful of the subject matter and the anonymity of the interviewed participants. When an AA member's confidence has been won (Deaf and hearing), they will generally talk freely about themselves and their experiences. I attribute this ease to both the Deaf and hearing interviewees being from the same type of high context sub-culture. I interviewed both male and female interpreters who are also members. Both of them seemed to expect direct, focused questions, and they did not go into more detail or offer any more information than what was requested in the question.

The Setting

Types of Meetings

All are welcome, but discussion must be confined to problems dealing with alcohol.
Attendance is limited to those who have a desire to stop drinking. If you think you have a problem with alcohol, you are welcome at the meeting. Still, discussion must be confined to problems dealing with alcohol.
Someone (most often, the meeting chairperson) picks a topic related to alcoholism or recovery for discussion.
Big Book Study
After a reading from the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, a topic from the reading is discussed, as it relates to alcoholism.
Step Study
After a reading from the book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the '12 x 12', a topic from the reading is discussed, as it relates to alcoholism.
Special Interest Groups
Gay, Young People's, Men's, Women's, etc.- Where members identify with others. These are not the "core" groups of AA, and some members even oppose their existence because they say they are "exclusive", rather than "all inclusive". The third tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous states, "The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking."

Course of a "typical" AA Meeting

Just like anything else these days, there is no "typical" meeting. Expect the unexpected.


The setting can basically be anywhere. Some members set up clubhouses, where the only thing that happens there are meetings and fellowship. Usually, signs are put up on the wall: banners with the 12 steps and 12 traditions, plaques with slogans, meeting times and announcements of AA related events on the walls. There is always coffee, and people freely fill their cups during the meeting. There is excitement for new people experiencing continued days of sobriety. Group sizes vary. There are members as young as 10 years old, and others who are very old. The median is around 40 to 50 years old. The ratio of males to females seems to be roughly 65% to 35%, respectively. There is not a huge amount of racial diversity, but it is present. Alcoholism knows no racial, geographic, socioeconomic or any other borders; there are wealthy members, people who look as if they live on the streets, and everything in between.


An AA meeting can take place anywhere. Interpreters must be ready to deal with logistical issues constantly. The atmosphere is varied, and there is representation of a high context sub-culture who have their own language, set of rules and values, and much "in-group" language: The Big Book-the fond name by members of their basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous, chips, acronyms- GSR, ICYPAA, DCM, idiomatic and metaphorical language-"Keep it simple," "Let go and let God," "If you turn it over, but don't let go, you end up upside-down", the steps and traditions and language attached to that, sponsorship, etc. AA members roll these terms and slogans off their tongues quickly and frequently.

After a person attends the same meeting for a period of time, the norm and expectation is that the group members will get to know the person and their "story" (past) well. It is hoped that the person will get to know the group members intimately, as well. When a person makes a commitment to attend a meeting on a regular basis, it is sometimes called their “home group.” Most people are attentive toward others when they are speaking. They seem to laugh at seemingly tragic stories because of their shared experiences. This happens because participants are relating to one another's experiences or because they are uncomfortable with what is frankly being discussed.

Participants and Discourse

The participants are people who believe they have a drinking problem; it is agreed among the group that no member can diagnose another’s alcoholism. The chairperson, who signs up in advance or is chosen by the group, is actively involved with the discourse of the meeting: making the decision to start the meeting with a moment of silence (for the "still suffering alcoholic"), followed by the Serenity Prayer, reading of the Preamble (the group's mission statement), making announcements, leading the Lord's Prayer, etc. The chairperson, as decided by the group, must have at least 90 days of continuous sobriety. Anyone who has a desire to stop drinking can "share" (speak). Some passive participants may be asked to speak and politely decline, "I'm just listening today."

Speakers participate actively. Members also participate actively by clapping when a person picks up a chip (representing a set length of continuous sobriety decided upon by the group: 24 hours to 29 days, 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 6 months, 9 months, 1 year, and multiples of years). Active participation also includes back channeling: nodding in agreement, smiling, ummms, gasps, etc. The group believes that people who have drinking problems as bad as theirs cannot stay sober alone. Thus, participation is shown passively by people who are present, but do not share, and discussion is tacitly restricted to personal experience, strength, and hope. It is suggested that advice not be given. The group believes that alcoholics do not like to be told what to do, so group members make "suggestions" to one another, rather than requiring that someone do something.

All participants are supposed to have equal potential to have an impact on the others present, but this is sometimes an area of contention. Things that impact some members of the group may not impact others, and vice versa. In teasing and disagreements between members, sometimes the justification of being right is, "I have more time [sober] than you!"

"Old timers," those with many years of continuous sobriety (exactly how many years varies) are revered by the group, and anything they say is regarded to be of high truth and stature. They usually know most of the people in the room (so they easily recognize a new person), and seem self-assured and happy.

Next, there are those with a few years continuous sobriety. They are expected to be mentally and emotionally stable. They should know, understand, and respect the rules and language accepted by the group and have the ability to understand and act on intuition. One reason for the high expectations of people with longer continuous sobriety is that their emotional growth begins again when they enter AA.

"Newcomers" are people with less than 30 days sober up to a year, or people who have recently come back to AA after a relapse, are also highly cherished. They show the recovering members of AA that active alcoholics are continuing to suffer from alcoholism "out there." They generally look like they feel uncomfortable and unsure of themselves, although they may handle themselves arrogantly when others are watching. One cliche for this behavior is, "An egomaniac with an inferiority complex." For example; if a person has been sober for 15 days, they are expected to be on an emotional roller coaster. They are apt to make bad decisions, not know how to take care of themselves, and need lots of guidance and direction. Some have lots of repressed anger and resentment towards the world in general, and lack in patience, they are not expected to know or understand all the rules and language accepted by the group. The groups believe that these behaviors are a result of emotional growth being stunted when the person started drinking alcoholically, so naturally, they do not know how to deal with these things.

Some new members think AA is a cult. There is a point in the meeting that "New Comers" and those with under 30 days continuous sobriety are asked to introduce themselves, not as a means to single them out, but to welcome them into the group. Many times, expectations of a person's mental and emotional stability are related to how long an individual has been continuously sober. Hopefully, they work the 12 steps, which helps the individual with their problems related to their alcoholic drinking. It is expected that the new person will pick up on the rules of the group tacitly and quickly.

Shared Goals

Ideally, the overt goal is directly stated in the Preamble of Alcoholics Anonymous, and is the same among all participants: recovery from alcoholism. The success rate is actually about 1 in 10, according to the General Service Office, (GSO), of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Covert goals include desires among members to save relationships, fix damaged financial situations, stay out of jail, appease court judges, get out of driving under the influence offenses, keep jobs, meet people, get children back, become happier, and many others. Because of covert goals, there is sometimes conflict with the group's "singleness of purpose" to stay sober. There is also conflict with overt and covert goals when a person, not desiring to stay sober, is ordered by court to attend meetings in order to complete their sentence. The group believes that the number one priority is staying sober, and if that is successfully done, covert goals will "fall in place" by themselves, or be taken care of by their Higher Powers, which some choose to call God. Covert goals are not encouraged by the group.

The group collectively agrees and believes that if a person reads the Big Book and works the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous with the guidance of a sponsor (someone who has already done all of these things), continually goes to meetings, finds a higher power, or power greater than themselves, and other things the group suggests, the person who is new to the group will greatly improve their chances of staying sober.

Sequence of Events

The chairperson is in charge of taking care of conflicts and difficulties, when and if, they happen and asking people to stop talking if they are diverting from the topic, or speaking too long. The chairperson has control over the discourse of the meeting: the meeting starts with him/her calling out, "My name is ________, and I am an alcoholic." This is followed by a moment of silence, the Serenity Prayer, reading of the Preamble, announcements, leading the Lord's Prayer, etc.

When it is time for another member to share, it is done either by raising hands and being recognized by the chair, or just calling out, "My name is ________, and I am an alcoholic." All people are expected to introduce themselves in this same manner and be attentive toward others when they are sharing. This is how one is expected to introduce themselves before speaking. If someone does not do this, another member will shout out, "Who are you?" because it goes against the tacit format of the meeting for a person to start speaking until they have identified themselves in this way. Turn-taking is valued by the participants; while one person is sharing, others listen attentively, and cross-talk (talking while another is talking or asking direct, expansion questions) is not allowed by the group.

Some language commonly used within the group has been adopted from the steps, traditions, or the Big Book: arouse (meaning "create"), amends, higher power, moral inventory, powerlessness (discussed as a positive thing), etc. Language used by participants ranges from higher registers to incoherent. Language and discussions are restricted to problems as they relate to alcoholism. There is a lot of incidental learning ("Read the book! Call your sponsor! Go to 90 meetings in 90 days!" etc.) that takes place, usually before and after the meeting. The rules and language of the group is reinforced by member discussions and behaviors, usually before and after the meeting, although sometimes education in this capacity happens during the meeting. One does not have to be directly involved in communication to hear and see things related to their recovery from alcoholism in AA meetings.


Any range of emotions may be displayed and thoughts expressed by individual members during a typical meeting: anger, fear, laughing, crying, arrogance, jealousy, complacency, happiness, the list could go on ad infinitum. This group of people believe that any of these emotions could cause them to take a drink, and that their drinking problems are related to the fact that while drinking, any or all of these emotions were repressed. For the same reasons, any range of emotions may be discussed during the meeting: homicidal feelings , suicidal feelings , resentment, acceptance, willingness, honesty, faith, open-mindedness, humility, gratitude, happiness, freedom, loving, security, etc.


Speaking is the channel used for discourse during the meeting, however there are deviations. The Big Book is usually read from and referenced throughout the meeting, or there will be references to the "12x12," a book that explains the 12 steps and traditions in greater detail. It is separate from the Big Book. When a person is speaking, eye contact of the participants is focused on the speaker, although some people look at the ceiling, the tables, their fingers, or elsewhere. Participants engage in back channeling behaviors while others are speaking: nodding in agreement, smiling, ummms, quietly giggling, etc. Members are fond of sharing "speaker tapes" with one another. A speaker tape is a tape of an AA member telling "their story" of what their experience drinking alcoholically was like, what happened while they were drinking and the circumstances that brought them to AA, and what it is like now. This is the normal way of interacting. Although there are slight deviations, anything that deviates too much from this is considered by the group to be abnormal. However, anything except drinking is acceptable in AA.

Norms of Interaction

Although more true for women than men, hugging is commonplace, even when members do not know each other well. There is not much handshaking. Unless you are new to AA, if you do not engage in hugging, it is thought that there is something 'wrong' with you. The new person may, or may not, engage in hugging. If a person is new, they are excused. Hugging is not meant to harm, but to welcome a person into the group. Also, when a person is new to AA and does not have much continuous sobriety, physical proximity distances are greater, and this is understood and respected by the group. There does not seem to be as much physical space required for comfort while members are in the AA group as they require when they are not with other AA members.

It is taboo to get a sponsor of the opposite gender, although it does happen. Within the group, fostering relationships with all people is encouraged, but it is suggested for the women to be supported by the women, and the men to be supported by the men. This is especially true during the first year of continuous sobriety and during difficult times. This is also true with the role of sponsorship.

No one is ever banished from the group, according to the group's agreed upon traditions. Most of the people had never met before they met in Alcoholics Anonymous. There are exceptions of people who had drank together, but a cliche among group members is that, they are "people who normally would not mix." The fact that alcoholism is a disease is a constant unifying factor.


Text of Serenity Prayer and Lord's Prayer is frozen, although there is one variation in the Lord's Prayer. Some members say "our daily strength," instead of "our daily bread." During readings of the 12th tradition, many people will say, along with the chair, "principles before personalities" when it is read. Language is monologic and testimonial, "This is what happened to me, and this is how I stayed sober through it." Sometimes, language is questioning, "This is what I am experiencing, what did you (being the whole group) do to stay sober when this happened to you?" As is usual in a high context culture, shared experience is the norm. All members may have different details, but feelings that brought the individual to AA are understood to be shared, although no ONE member speaks for AA.

Addition of a Deaf Person and an Interpreter


A Deaf person has "hit their bottom" (members reference to the epiphany that brings a person to AA) and wants to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. There are few interpreted meetings of AA. The Deaf people I interviewed voiced some apprehension in going to AA due to the grapevine effect among the DEAF-WORLD. They also discussed difficulty in the fact that "non-alcoholic" interpreters are sometimes not welcome at closed meetings. Interpreters should be prepared to defend the Code of Ethics and your profession. The group's decision is made by the entire group, not just one person, but it may be helpful to get there early to help deflate the issue.

For discussion purposes, it is assumed that the Deaf person attends this meeting on a regular basis with an interpreter and has declared him or herself to be a member of the group. Also for discussion purposes, we will assume the Deaf member being discussed is male. Hereafter, this person will be referred to as, "Deaf member." The other members have gotten to know him, and he has been sober in AA for some time. He is familiar with the rules for interaction and the language used. The interpreter has experience with AA meetings and its intricacies.


Setting does not differ with the addition of a Deaf person.


The first noticeable deviation from this "typical" meeting is the addition of a Deaf person and the interpreter. American culture tends to be low-context. AA is a high context culture, and members bring their primary culture into the picture, as well. With the addition of the Deaf person, there is an addition of yet another high context culture. The interpreter has a cultural influence, as well. The meeting can be influenced culturally each time there is a different speaker. From a cultural influence vantage point, things can get culturally "confusing." An interpreter is advised to be clear about their own values, morals, and ethics.

When the group's response is to laugh at "seemingly tragic stories," an interpreter must be prepared for this. Remembering that this is happening because participants are relating to one another's experiences or because they are uncomfortable with what is frankly being discussed and these people are trying not to live this way anymore may help. An interpreter can easily change the environment by having a negative reaction to something they hear.

Participants and Discourse

The participants are still the same.

Those who speak are actively participating. The Deaf member participates with active involvement, the same way hearing members do, and will most-likely share during meetings. The Deaf member can actively participate by clapping when a person picks up a chip. Interpreters are advised that specialized language used by the group are also represented by specific signs. A Deaf member who is familiar with the terminology will most likely use these specialized signs, so the interpreter can be prepared. In addition, the interpreter needs to make themselves available to interpret everything they hear because of the incidental learning that takes place before and after the meeting (i.e., "Read the book! Call your sponsor! Go to 90 meetings in 90 days ! " etc.). Language of the group is reinforced by members' discussions and behaviors during and after the meeting.

Overt and covert goals must be reflected appropriately in the interpretation, so the Deaf member can properly identify their own goals. According to other interpreters, this can be a place of thier own bias, as desire for the Deaf member to succeed can cloud the interpretation.

Sequence of Events

The sequence of events in not altered because a Deaf member chairs. The Deaf member chairs meetings as regularly as anyone else in the group. If someone is being disruptive, the interpreter must convey this information so the chair can handle it appropriately.

The interpreter must decide whether or not to voice comments made by the Deaf person if they choose to violate the turn-taking rules established by the group. It is not the interpreter's responsibility to answer questions or protect the Deaf member for something that may potentially be embarrassing.


Emotions expressed vocally but not overtly in body language must be interpreted. One way this can be done is to say, "It seems like he is crying." This is important in maintaining the content and spirit of the speaker. If a Deaf person is on an emotional roller coaster, the voicing interpretation needs to reflect this, as well. Members may want to talk with them after the meeting.


Speaking is the channel used for discourse during the meeting, however there are deviations. American Sign Language is used by the Deaf member, and indirect eye-contact may be frustrating or irritating to the Deaf member. The Big Book and the "12x12" have been translated onto videotape by a Deaf man. They are available from the General Service Office of AA. It is a good idea for an interpreter to be familiar with these in case the Deaf member makes a reference from these texts, so that it can be voiced accordingly. Obviously, the Deaf member does not participate in sharing speaker tapes.

Norms of Interaction

The addition of a Deaf person maintains the group belief that they are "people who normally would not mix." The Deaf member attending the meeting with the interpreter participates in a similar fashion as the hearing members of the group. The Deaf member has the ability to relate to the shared experience of the members, and considers him or herself to be a part of the inner core of the group. The norms of interaction will change simply because of the addition of a Deaf person and an interpreter, however, the spirit of the meeting does not change.


The interpretation should stay true to the spirit and integrity of the interpretation, it may be testimonial or questioning. If a voice to sign interpretation has been accurate, most likely a Deaf member would also follow the linguistic format of using "we," instead of "I." When the Deaf member shares, voicing needs to reflect the spirit, because emotions are so highly valued by this sub-culture.

(background information)


In AA circles, the scenario is in a normal place for an AA meeting. The make-up of this meeting is considered "typical," taking into consideration the gender factor, the race factor, the age factor, and others.


The Scene is typical, even with the addition of a Deaf person and interpreter. If a Deaf person came to a meeting without an interpreter, it is likely that the entire meeting could pass without knowledge that a Deaf person was there (not only because of the "invisible disability" factor. It is common, Deaf and hearing alike). This is because sometimes people, even new people, come and go without ever being noticed. This certainly would not be the case if a Deaf person showed up with an interpreter.

The Deaf member can grasp the psychological feel of the meeting, and be in tune with it because of the behaviors members display as a participants, even though they get the information second hand through the interpreter. When the Deaf member arrives at the meeting with an interpreter, it usually takes time for the other members to become comfortable with the presence of and using an interpreter. It may be awkward and difficult at first, but it becomes easier with time. It should be noted that a Deaf person attending may feel very isolated and alone. These feelings are common among ALL alcoholics. If the interpretation isn't accurate and does not stay true to the terminology, content, and spirit of the speaker's message, the Deaf person could feel even more left out.

Participants and Discourse

Members behave in a manner appropriate and acceptable to their group, and the covert "social mores" need to be passed to the Deaf person through the interpretation. The chairperson is supposed to have 90 days continuous sobriety because it is supposedly an indication of stability and commitment. The Deaf member can participate fully and have full understanding, provided the interpreter is dedicated to rendering the message faithfully.

The reason for using "we," as in, "we are powerless over...," when speaking is to indicate shared experience and that one is not alone in their fight against alcoholism. This type of communication is common among high context cultures. The interpreter would hopefully make this a part of her interpretation, as the concept is integral to the group's goals. The Deaf member attending the meeting with an interpreter would have potential to impact the group when sharing because the other participants would have the opportunity to hear what the Deaf member had to say. A Deaf person who has attended AA meetings for some time is most likely aware of language adopted by and used within the group. It can be expected and assumed that a Deaf member who is aware of the linguistic differences of the group will use specialized vocabulary freely and comfortably when chatting and sharing in the meeting.

The Deaf member should have as much access to incidental information as possible. The interpreter needs to plan to "come early and stay late" as many of the members do. The interpreter should interpret all incidental information if s/he is not already interpreting something else.

Shared Goals

A member is made aware of covert goals and the conflict with the overt goals by paying attention to what is being said in the meeting. The Deaf member would be made aware of these during the interpretation. Because the overt goal is stated in the Preamble, all members should be fully aware of the overt goals of the group. The Deaf member would have access to this information, provided the meanings of the specialized language is included in the interpretation. The Deaf member will learn covert and overt goals of the group over time, in the same way a hearing member of the group would, but through the interpretation.

Sequence of Events

All members introduce themselves with "My name is _________, and I am an alcoholic." Hearing members learn how the sequence of events unfolds over time by attending meetings, and a Deaf person would learn the same way. It is believed by members that recovery from alcoholism is a life and death matter.

Turn taking is highly valued by the group, this information could be learned the same way for a Deaf or hearing member. A Deaf member would know that if a person does not introduce themselves in the manner dictated by the group, they are teased with the, "Who are you?" comment discussed above. A Deaf member would learn that they will be interrupted by the chair if they are diverting from the topic, speaking too long, etc. In the interpretation of the meeting, the Deaf member should be able to enjoy the variances in registers and styles of the speakers. Through the interpreter, the Deaf member would be able to use the common language and "buzz" words of the group. A Deaf person learns the suggested linguistic restrictions of the group.


The group believes that much of their drinking "careers" were defined by not dealing with emotions. The Deaf member accesses this information through the interpreter, and the interpretation should include overt and covert information. A Deaf member would have the benefit of being able to share their emotions, as they related to alcoholism, and listen to the other members discuss theirs.

As the group has expectations that new people will tacitly pick up on the expectations of the group, a Deaf member attending the meeting with an interpreter should still be allowed to pick up on these, some through the interpretation, some not. The interpreter decides what is and is not interpreted. A Deaf member attending the meeting with an interpreter could interact with the other members, offering guidance and direction to the newer members, and sharing what they have learned from their time in AA. The Deaf member also has a greater opportunity to learn and grow within the group.


Speaking and American Sign Language are the channels used in the scenario. After time to adjust to this type of communication, hearing members of the group will become comfortable, even with a "non-alcoholic" interpreter. It can be anticipated that the Deaf member will use the language used by the group because they have probably paid attention for some time in meetings, and watched the Big Book on videotape in ASL. Many Deaf (and hearing) members of AA are not able to clearly understand the written version of the Big Book, because it is written in English from the 1930's.

One thing that was explicitly expressed by both interviewed interpreters was the perceived difficulty they were having establishing communication with a Deaf person who was new to AA. They both spoke of their eyes being like "black holes." They explained that there was virtually no back channeling that would lead them to believe they were interpreting clearly, being understood, or needed to modify linguistic styles-nothing. They both said that when they asked if they were clear, the answer was a nod, "yes," and after some time passed, there was increasingly more back channeling behaviors.

Norms of Interaction

The Deaf member has the opportunity to understand the significance of hugging among group members and is comfortable and respectful of the group's hugging norms. S/He is considered to be part of the inner circle. The Deaf member is aware of, and respectful of the group's values. The Deaf member learns from the group about sponsorship and that the men are to "stick with" the men, women are to "stick with" the women. This would be learned in the same way for a hearing member-over time.


The Deaf member and the interpreter can participate in the Serenity Prayer and Lord's Prayer using ASL. Most often, the group is seated during the Serenity Prayer, and circled up holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. The interpreter can interpret the Serenity Prayer from the place they are interpreting from, and stand just in front of the Deaf member, but inside the circle for the Lord's Prayer. The interpretation should keep up during these prayers. There is a chant of, "Keep Coming Back!" after the Lord's prayer. The Deaf member most likely would not participate by calling aloud "principles before personalities" is when it is read during the meeting because of lag. This is no big deal to the group.


Many of these behaviors and linguistic differences are learned over time. Certainly, for a Deaf person, they would be acquired and learned easier through an interpreter. Again, it should be stressed that it often takes hearing people some time to learn the group's norm, value, and differences in language use, as well. It should be obvious that the interpretation is important in learning the aspects of interaction that takes place on many different levels. It can be assumed that it would take longer for a Deaf member to learn and become comfortable with the AA group's interactions than it would for a hearing person who has a direct channel and access to incidental learning. However, they would still have the ability to feel a part of, and on the same level, in the same manner as hearing members of the group over time.



Note: Several interviews with Deaf, hearing, and interpreter members of Alcoholics Anonymous took place. They asked not to be identified, even by first name, because the community is so small.

Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous (The "Big Book"). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1939.

Alcoholics Anonymous. "Carrying the AA Message to the Deaf Alcoholic." Reference Sheet provided by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

Alcoholics Anonymous. "How it Works" (sight translation). Provided by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

Alcoholics Anonymous. "Information on Alcoholics Anonymous." Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., pamphlet. also available on-line

Alcoholics Anonymous. Is AA For You? (sight translation). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., pamphlet.

Alcoholics Anonymous. "Serving Alcoholics With Special Needs." Reference Sheet provided by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

Cheever, Susan (1999, June 14). Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century. TIME Magazine. 201-204. also available on-line

Deaf Member of Alcoholics Anonymous (male). Interview. 2 October 1999.

Deaf Member of Alcoholics Anonymous (female). Interview. 30 August 1999.

General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Hearing Member of Alcoholics Anonymous (male). Interview. 10 June 1999.

Hearing Member of Alcoholics Anonymous (female). Interview. 1 September 1999.

Interpreter Member of Alcoholics Anonymous (male). Interview. 15 October 1999.

Interpreter Member of Alcoholics Anonymous (female). Interview. 23 November 1999.

Meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Miller, Betty G. Deaf and Sober: Journeys through Recovery, Glossary of Key Terms, pp185-188

Miller, Betty G. Deaf and Sober: Journeys through Recovery ASL Gloss Translations of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp344-345.

For More Information, Contact:
General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous
P.O. Box 459
Grand Central Station
New York, New York 10163


Proper Citation of this Document (MLA)

Kirkpatrick, Kayla EJ. "Interpreting AA (and other 12-step) Meetings." American Sign Language Interpreting Resources, 10 Decmeber 1999.