The Social Security Administration wants to start using the term “intellectual disability/mental retardation” in lieu of “mental retardation,” following a similar switch at other state and federal agencies across the country.

In a notice posted last month in the Federal Register, the Social Security Administration indicated that it wants to make the language change amid a series of updates to the agency’s eligibility criteria for those with mental disorders.

“The term ‘mental retardation’ has taken on negative connotations over the years, is offensive to many persons and results in misunderstandings about the nature of the disorder and the persons who have it. The term ‘intellectual disability’ is now widely used internationally and is gradually replacing ‘mental retardation’ in the United States,” the notice indicates as reason for making the change.

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While several government entities have completely replaced the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability,” Social Security would use both terms jointly under the proposed rule. The reason is that the older term is still widely used in many government programs, is included in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, and elsewhere.

Members of the public can comment on the proposed changes until Nov. 17. Once public comments are reviewed, changes will only become effective after final rules are published in the Federal Register.

The move toward updated language at the Social Security Administration comes as a bill is making its way through Congress that would replace “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in federal health, education and labor policy. The Senate unanimously approved the legislation known as Rosa’s Law in August. A similar bill called the Elizabeth A. Connelly Act is awaiting consideration in the House of Representatives.

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