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Congress Takes On Outdated Disability Terminology


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More than a year after the federal government replaced “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in many laws, officials are looking to shift away from other terms also deemed offensive to those with disabilities.

Under a bill proposed last month, two U.S. senators want to remove the word “lunatic” from federal law. The term, which originates from Latin and first referred to a type of insanity spurred by changes in the moon, is now considered derogatory by those with mental illness and other disabilities.

Much like the 2010 passage of Rosa’s Law replaced “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” without changing the meaning or intent of any laws, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., say their 21st Century Language Act is simply an effort to reflect more modern terminology.

“The continued use of this pejorative term has no place in the U.S. Code,” Conrad said on the Senate floor, reports BBC News Magazine. “‘Lunatic’ is an unnecessary term and… its removal will have no impact on the broader federal law.” To read more click here.

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Comments (6 Responses)

  1. Deefreddy says:

    It might be a good word to describe some of our elected officials ;)

  2. Debora Davidson, OTR/L, PhD says:

    The words we use both reflect and affect how we think. These changes are a good thing!

  3. Maggie Dee says:

    Read top to bottom of any legislation…if this one is pure w/o anything else tacked on…go for it! We have been led down the garden path one too many times so, trust with Congressional legislation intent is a BIG concern for me. It seems to me that Party is more important than country regardless of which side of the aisle one sits on. Time for our “representatives” to re-learn the skills of compromise. We must do this ever day of our lives as a person with a disability. The “Ivory Tower” has become top heavy and massively out of touch with the real world. Maggie Dee, Producer: KUSF in Exile, “Disability and Senior News Report” on the Internet

  4. Judi Gollette says:

    With the change of MR to ID could we have not included the term disability. With visual and ortho disabilities the correct term is visual or ortho impairment. No stigma of a disabled person is used. I work with young adults with various disabilities and it is so hard to teach them to advocate for themselves by calling themselves disabled. We all have various limitations and by using a universal term of impairment then there is no discrimination. My brother, who was born with Down Syndrome in 1959, once said he was mad that people said he had mental retardation; he had Down Syndrome. No one in our family ever distinguished the difference and we have no idea who taught him, but somewhere along his life, he knew there was a difference. He was his own self-advocate.

  5. Polly says:

    Judi Gollette, I doubt that substituting the term “impairment” for “disability” would trigger less stigma. I would find it more difficult to say “I have an intellectual impairment” or “I have a mental impairment” than “I have an intellectual/mental disability” – I think “impairment” has more negative connotations when used in this way than “disability”, even though I am aware of the use of the word “impairment” in discussions of how to define disability, and agree it is entirely appropriate in that context. But it doesn’t translate, socially.

    “Mental Retardation” as a term is only problematic because of the connotations that have come to be associated with it, and this is a result of how society values (or doesn’t value) individuals, in all their infinite beautiful variety. It has nothing to do with the words and the meaning they symbolised when used initially to denote the characteristics that define ID – ie these words are no more or less offensive than ID, except by virtue of the devalued connotations they have acquired.

    I think it is very timely (in fact long overdue) to change from “MR” to “ID” as preferred terminology. However guarding against stigma has little to do with choosing yet another alternative term to substitute for “disability”, which has not acquired the derogatory connotations of “retardation” and “mental”. Instead the focus should be on our values as a society, and how we include, respect and value all of our brothers and sisters in all their variety. It’s a much deeper issue than agreeing on which labels to use. We need words, they’re useful, and we shouldn’t conceal or avoid a discussion about the deeper issue by getting distracted by words and terminology, which are inherently dynamic and change over time anyhow, to reflect society.

  6. gary rubin says:

    the word mental retardation needs to go away this is the 21st centry peoples way of thinking needs to get better with time not worse and the so called normal person ant there either so please peps think about what comes next have to put yourself in others peoples shoes

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