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Social Security Administration to Replace Term ‘Mental Retardation’


Posted on Feb 22, 2013

In 2010, Congress passed Rosa’s Law, a bill requiring the negative term “mental retardation” to be replaced with the more positive “intellectual disability” in all federal health, education, and labor policy. The Social Security Administration has announced recently that it plans to do the same.

On Monday, January 28, 2013, the Social Security Administration published the proposed change in rules in the Federal Register. If the new law is passed, all instances of “mental retardation” will be replaced with “intellectual disability,” and all instances of “mentally retarded children” will be replaced with “children with intellectual disability.” The ruling will affect the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Listing of Impairments used to determine eligibility for SSDI and SSI, as well as other SSA publications. The new ruling will not affect how SSDI or SSI claims are processed or the criteria for benefits.

The change is in response to disability activists who rightfully consider the term “mental retardation” to have negative connotations. The term “intellectual disability” better describes the disorder. The announcement in the Federal Register initiates a 30-day public comment period. After 30 days, the official change can take place.

Rosa’s Law is named for Rosa Marcellino, a 9-year-old child with Down syndrome, who worked with her parents and siblings to remove the term “mental retardation” from Maryland health and education law.

In 2010, Social Security Administration proposed replacing the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability/mental retardation.” But, no changes were made. The Boston SSDI attorneys at Keefe Disability Law hope the new proposed changes will be made into law.

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John L. Keefe
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Founding Attorney of Keefe Disability Law