The Social Security Administration has signaled its intention to start using the term “intellectual disability” in place of “mental retardation.”
More than two years after Congress required the language switch in all federal health, education and labor policy under Rosa’s Law, Social Security officials said they want to follow the lawmakers’ lead even though the agency does not have any mandate to do so.
“Advocates for individuals with intellectual disability have rightfully asserted that the term ‘mental retardation’ has negative connotations, has become offensive to many people, and often results in misunderstandings about the nature of the disorder and those who have it,” the Social Security Administration said in a proposed rule published in the Federal Register on Monday.
“Consistent with the concerns expressed by Congress when it enacted Rosa’s Law, and in response to numerous inquiries from advocate organizations, we propose to revise our rules to use the term ‘intellectual disability’ in the name of our current listings and in our other regulations,” reads the notice.
The proposal’s publication this week triggers a 30-day public comment period before any official change can take place.
If Social Security officials move forward with the terminology update, all references to “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded children” would be replaced with “intellectual disability” and “children with intellectual disability” within Social Security’s Listing of Impairments and other rules.
The agency is not looking to alter the way claims are evaluated for those with the developmental disability.
“Changing how we talk about people with disabilities is a critical step in promoting and protecting their basic civil and human rights,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc. “This is an important moment for people with disabilities because Social Security is a lifeline to so many.”
This is not the first time the Social Security Administration has considered moving toward the term “intellectual disability.” In 2010, the agency issued a proposed rule calling for updates to eligibility criteria for those with mental disorders. Within the proposal, Social Security officials indicated an intention to replace references to “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability/mental retardation.” However, no further action was taken on the 2010 proposal, with the agency continuing to consider public comments on the possible changes.