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Social Security Expected to Drop “Mental Retardation”


Posted on Aug 22, 2013

After numerous other federal agencies have begun to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability,” the Social Security Administration has agreed to do the same.

The Federal Register published a final rule on July 31, 2013, that showed Social Security officials approved changing the terminology. According to the rule, the reason for the change was a result of widespread adoption of the term intellectual disability.

In recent years, many advocates for people with intellectual disabilities have pointed out that the term “mental retardation” has begun to have negative connotations. Today, the term is offensive to many people, and often results in misunderstandings about the people who experience intellectual disabilities.

Now, all references in the Social Security Listing of Impairments will be changed to reflect this new rule. For example, any references to “mentally retarded children” will be changed to “children with intellectual disability.” In spite of the change in terminology, the Social Security Administration says that they are not changing the way individual claims are evaluated with people who have this disability.

The discussion to change this term began in January 2013. Since then, the majority of people agreed with the change. Some people did not feel it was necessary, while others felt that the change could be made to be a bit broader and be better described using the phrases “developmental disability” or “cognitively impaired.”

The Social Security Administration was not required to make the change, but instead wanted to do so in order to align with other government entities. The change will take effect in the Social Security materials by the end of August 2013. As Massachusetts Social Security disability lawyers, we respect the change and will also adapt this in our office.

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John L. Keefe
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