Addressing People with Intellectual Disabilities

Members of the Knights of Columbus do a great deal to assist people with intellectual disabilities. As your council works to improve the quality of life for people with intellectual disabilities, some guidelines to follow in referring to people with intellectual disabilities might be useful. Council bulletins, committee reports, posters and flyers, press releases and everyday speech should be accurate and considerate when referring to people with disabilities. The following are some “dos and don’ts” of language:

  • DO talk or write about “people with intellectual disabilities,” not “the retarded.” You should not identify the person as a label — leave room for having intellectual disabilities to be just one of the many ways you can describe a person. In addition, put the person before the condition — “people with intellectual disabilities” is probably best.

  • DON’T refer to all people with intellectual disabilities as if they were children. Adults with intellectual disabilities should be spoken to and about as adults. A newsletter article which would normally refer to its adult subject as “William C. Smith” should not refer to an adult who has intellectual disabilities as “Billy,” or otherwise treat him as a child.

  • DON’T use negative terms like “victim of,” “afflicted with,” “suffering from,” “unfortunate,” etc.,when describing an individual with intellectual disabilities. Say someone “uses a wheelchair” rather than “is crippled” or “is wheelchair-bound.”

  • DON’T imply disease when speaking or writing about someone with intellectual disabilities. He or she is not “sick” and you cannot “catch” the condition.

Most importantly, people with any disabilities — mental, physical or emotional — are still people. Speak or write of these individuals with the respect any human being deserves. Keep in mind that how you refer to people can have a great impact on the way others perceive them.

“Campaign for People with Intellectual Disabilities”

One of the most popular and successful programs conducted by Knights of Columbus state and local councils for the benefit of people with intellectual disabilities is the fund-raiser in which councils collect donations outside stores and on street corners. In appreciation, the donor is offered a candy bar, often a Tootsie Roll. The high visibility of this program has led to the campaign being referred to as the “Tootsie Roll Drive.”

The nickname is understandable, but misleading.

The Knights of Columbus has no official tie to Tootsie Rolls or their manufacturer. In fact, many councils participate in the same fund-raising drive, but distribute other items. References to this program should highlight the good the money does, not advertise a candy bar. For these reasons, it is strongly recommended that this project be promoted as the “Campaign for People with Intellectual Disabilities” rather than the “Tootsie Roll Drive.”