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Social Security Administration to drop term 'mental retardation'

As part of an effort by the U.S. government to be more respectful of those living with intellectual disabilities, the Social Security Administration has officially stopped referring to those conditions as "mental retardation." The agency, which administers the Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income systems, will now use the phrase "intellectual disability" instead staring on Sep. 1.

The SSA first proposed this change in terminology in January. As with most changes in federal rules, the public was invited to comment on the proposal. The vast majority of the 76 responses supported the change. Of the remaining five, some preferred a different term like "developmental disability."

It was in 2010 that Congress passed a law that replaced the term "mental retardation" in federal health, education and labor policy literature. It was formerly a common way to refer to people with Down syndrome and similar conditions, but it has become a term of derision and offensive to disabled people and their loved ones.

That effort to be more respectful has now extended to the SSA, which grants SSD and SSI benefits to disabled children and adults. In the final rule, which was published on July 26, the SSA said that "mental retardation" has negative connotations and can be an inaccurate way to refer to the disorders to which it refers.

Readers who have an intellectual disability or know someone who does likely will applaud this move. It will do little to change the actual process of applying for and receiving benefits, but may make the process feel less insulting and more respectful.

Source: Disability Scoop, "Social Security To Drop 'Mental Retardation'," Michelle Diament, Aug. 2, 2013

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