The Social Security Administration will become the latest federal agency to start using the term “intellectual disability” in lieu of “mental retardation.”

In a final rule published in the Federal Register on Thursday, Social Security officials said they approved the change in terminology citing “widespread adoption” of the term “intellectual disability.”

“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,” Social Security indicated.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Under the rule, all references to “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded children” will be replaced with “intellectual disability” and “children with intellectual disability” within Social Security’s Listing of Impairments and other agency rules. The change will not impact how claims are evaluated for those with the developmental disability.

The move this week finalizes a proposal issued in January. Of 76 public comments submitted on the matter, 71 supported replacing the term “mental retardation.” Most commenters favored adopting “intellectual disability,” but some preferred the existing terminology arguing that it’s more precise while others suggested terms like “developmental disability” or “cognitively impaired.”

Ultimately, Social Security opted to finalize its proposal as is and said the new rule will take effect in 30 days.

In making the update, agency officials said they were looking to align with other government entities even though they were not mandated to do so by law.

Nearly three years ago, President Barack Obama signed legislation known as Rosa’s Law replacing references to “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in federal health, education and labor policy following a switch that already occurred in many states. And earlier this year, the terminology update was included in the newly-released fifth edition of psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

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.