President Barack Obama signed legislation Tuesday requiring the federal government to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in many areas of government.

The measure known as Rosa’s Law was approved unanimously by Congress before receiving the go-ahead from the president with little fanfare this week.

Under the law, “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” will be stripped from federal health, education and labor policy. “Intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” will be inserted in their place. The rights of individuals with disabilities will remain the same.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

“This is a really important step, particularly for the self-advocacy community,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, which lobbied heavily for Rosa’s Law. “Self-advocates have been working for many years to remove hurtful language and this takes our community one step closer.”

Even with the new law in effect, the terms will not be swapped out immediately. That’s because the change will be implemented gradually over the next several years as laws and documents are revised so that the alteration does not incur any cost.

By moving to use the term “intellectual disability,” the federal government is following a trend. Most states and some federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already use the new language.

Rosa’s Law is named for Rosa Marcellino, a Maryland girl with Down syndrome.

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.