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Social Security Administration to stop saying 'mentally retarded'

Almost three years ago, President Obama signed Rosa’s Law, which urges federal education, labor and health agencies to revise their policy manuals so that they no longer use the term “mental retardation” or similar phrases to refer to people with developmental or intellectual disabilities. The Social Security Administration is about to institute new language for the disorders everywhere the agency discusses mental disabilities that qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Although Rosa’s Law reportedly doesn’t legally require the change, the SSA sought to align itself with other federal agencies. Similar changes were made in the recently-released fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by psychiatrists to diagnose intellectual disabilities and mental illness.

In an effort to garner support from Social Security disability beneficiaries, advocacy groups and the general public, the SSA proposed a change to its official regulations -- a process that allows for public input. A total of 76 comments from the public were submitted to the agency, 71 of which were supportive of the change. The majority of the comments expressed a preference for the term “intellectual disability,” while others suggested “developmental disability” or “cognitive impairment.”

The agency finalized its rule on Aug. 1, going with the majority. Now it will go through the process of revising its documentation to replace phrases like “mentally retarded child” with “child with an intellectual disability.” The change in terminology will not have any effect on whether individuals qualify for Social Security disability based on particular mental disabilities.

“Advocates for individuals with intellectual disability have rightfully asserted that the term ‘mental retardation’ has negative connotations, has become offensive to many people,” the agency indicated, “and often results in misunderstandings about the nature of the disorder and those who have it.”

The change is scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of September.

Source: Disability Scoop, “Social Security To Drop ‘Mental Retardation,’” Michelle Diament, Aug. 2, 2013

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