I’ve been in A.A. for years, and I love the San Francisco fellowship. This community means everything to me. I’m also immunocompromised and at high risk for COVID. As masks have come off and other mitigation measures have gone away, my health issues have forced me to remain indoors. I no longer have access to spaces that are really important to me, including A.A. meetings.
Online meetings have been a godsend, but I really miss in-person meetings. I’d like to be able to go to them again. When masks are made optional, however, at-risk people are excluded from participating. Being around groups of maskless people indoors is too big of a risk for us to take.
Make no mistake about it: This is an accessibility issue.
Should we exclude people who are disabled? Elders? Immunocompromised people? People who are close to those people? Making masks optional means you can attend, but only as long as you’re not medically vulnerable.
This position is inherently ableist. At an A.A. conference years ago, I heard someone say that we need to look around the room, pay attention to who isn’t there, and wonder why they’re not there. If you’re looking around the meeting and missing people you used to see, it might be me.
It’s no longer enough to rely on public-health guidelines. As of mid-2022, San Francisco’s once-helpful public-health guidelines no longer allow medically vulnerable people to participate in public life safely. These guidelines are now designed around the comfort of those who are least at risk. These guidelines often mean that the vulnerable must avoid public spaces.
Here’s the good news. We can address this accessibility issue. Here are a few ideas:
- Just as we do for wheelchair-accessible meetings, list meetings that have COVID safety requirements in the schedule, and specify what they are. Are masks required? Is proof of vaccination required?
- Suggest that your meetings make masks mandatory and provide them to people who need them.
- Improve air quality and ventilation wherever possible. Open windows and doors when possible. Run a HEPA filter.
Let’s do better. Let’s make meetings more fully accessible.