The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced on Thursday that it will no longer use the term “mental retardation,” instead replacing it with “intellectual disability” in its official Listing of Impairments and other regulations. The SSA cites the widespread adoption of the term “intellectual disability” by Congress, government agencies, and various public and private organizations as impetus of the change, along with the negative and often offensive nature of the term “mental retardation” in modern language as well. The SSA’s voluntary change comes less than three years after President Obama signed Rosa’s Law, which updated language in federal health, education, and labor policy statutes with the terms “intellectual disability” or “individual with an intellectual disability.”
Importantly, the adjustment in terminology will not affect who qualifies for Social Security Disability benefits. This includes prospective or current applicants as well as those who have already qualified for benefits with a diagnosis of “mental retardation.” The change appears simply to reflect the trend towards the use of modern, respectful language to refer to people with disabilities of all varieties.