The federal government would replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” throughout health, education and labor policy under a bill introduced Tuesday in the Senate.

The legislation would not change the services or rights afforded to individuals, but would merely alter the federal government’s terminology.

In recent years there has been a push across the country to do away with the use of “mental retardation,” which many consider outdated and offensive. Several states have stripped the term from their laws and agencies. And, earlier this year Special Olympics launched a campaign asking people to pledge not to use what they dubbed the R-word.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., is named Rosa’s Law after Rosa Marcellinos, a girl from Maryland with an intellectual disability.

“In changing the language, we believe that it will be start of new attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities. Hopefully, people will associate new words with the very able and valuable people that go to school, work, play soccer or live next door,” Mikulski said.

Mikulski pointed out that the bill would create consistency across government. She said some government agencies already use the term intellectual disability including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the Committee on Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities which used to be known as the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation.

“‘Retard,’ ‘retarded’ and ‘retardation,’ once accepted medical terms, are now only used to demean and insult people,” said Peter V. Berns, chief executive officer at The Arc of the United States, in applauding the proposed legislation. “This bill is very important for people with intellectual disabilities who understand that language plays a crucial role in how they are perceived and treated in society and are actively advocating for terminology changes in federal and state laws.”

In order to become law, the bill must be considered by the full House and Senate and signed by the president.