“Mental Retardation” Terminology Banished by SSA

The Social Security Administration has announced a final rule, which adopts, without change, the notice of proposed rule making it published in the Federal Register on January 28, 2013 (78 Fed. Reg. 5755). The agency is replacing the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” in its Listing of Impairments that it uses to evaluate claims involving mental disorders in adults and children under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act and in other appropriate sections of its rules. The change reflects the widespread adoption of the term “intellectual disability” by Congress, government agencies, and various public and private organizations. The final rule becomes effective on September 3, 2013.

The SSA received 76 comments regarding the change. Seventy-one commenters enthusiastically supported the proposal to replace the term, while only five opposed the change. Almost all commenters noted the negative connotations and offensive nature of term “mental retardation.” Three commenters, all parents of adult children with profound intellectual and developmental disabilities, asked that it not replace “mental retardation” with the term “intellectual disability” because they regarded “mental retardation” as the medical term that best described their children’s conditions. They also feared that the loss of the term “mental retardation” could contribute to a lessening of public awareness and concern for individuals like their children and possibly the elimination of the public institutional service support systems that their children require. A fourth commenter said that while the change in terminology might make people feel good, the new term was not as descriptive as the current terminology.