Why Social Security Phased Out “Mental Retardation” and Phased in “Intellectual Disability”

Hello My Name Is stickerIn 2010, Rosa’s Law became law in the United States. Rosa’s law was named for Rosa Marcellino, who was just nine years old when the bill was signed into law. Rosa and her family successfully advocated for the term “mental retardation” to be replaced with “intellectual disability” in federal health, education, and labor policy. Rosa’s law sought to remove the hurtful and stigmatizing word “retardation” from federal law, but it did not include Social Security law.

However, in 2013, the Social Security Administration adopted a new rule that would replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disabilities” in titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The Social Security justified the change in terminology this way, “Advocates for individuals with intellectual disability have rightfully asserted that the term ‘mental retardation’ has negative connotations, has become offensive to many people, and often results in misunderstandings about the nature of the disorder and those who have it.”

Under federal guidelines, people with intellectual disabilities may receive Social Security disability benefits if they meet certain requirements. 

This Isn’t the First Time a Change Has Been Necessary

It is interesting to follow the progression of how the terms for people with intellectual disabilities have changed over the years. For example, the American Association of Developmental Disabilities was founded in 1876.  The original name of the organization was the “Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble Minded Persons.”  The organization later changed its name to “American Association on Mental Deficiency” (AAMD) and then to the “American Association of Mental Retardation.” In June 2006, members of the association voted to change its name to the “American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.” 

The Social Security disability lawyers at Morgan & Weisbrod support this change. No one should feel offended or marginalized because of a disability. We encourage anyone with an intellectual disability to contact us directly via this website to learn more about getting Social Security disability benefits.

John Driskill
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Board Certified Houston Social Security Disability Lawyer
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