Monday, October 20, 2014
The End of the R-Word
By Tim Wheat
Beginning in 2010, especially among young people, the momentum to get rid of the label “retarded” strengthened with boycotts, video and ads. August 1, 2013 saw a new milestone in the effort to update our language as the Federal Register announced that it would replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability.”
The announcement on the Federal Register website explains about the change and will cause a reverberation in the language people use about people with disabilities. The Federal Register calls itself the daily journal of the United States Government. Many people felt uneasy about the terminology used to describe individuals with intellectual disabilities because the labels sounded insulting and outdated. The Federal Register also explained the reason for the change:
The term “intellectual disability” is gradually replacing the term “mental retardation” nationwide. 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.
The Federal Register also notes that this change in terminology has been made already by other major parts of government and in legislation.
In October 2010, Congress passed Rosa's Law, which changed references to “mental retardation” in specified Federal laws to “intellectual disability,” and references to “a mentally retarded individual” to “an individual with an intellectual disability.”  Rosa's Law also required the Federal agencies that administer the affected laws to make conforming amendments to their regulations. Rosa's Law did not specifically include titles II and XVI of the Act within its scope, and therefore, did not require any changes in our existing regulations. However, consistent with the concerns expressed by Congress when it enacted Rosa's Law, and in response to numerous inquiries from advocate organizations, we are revising our rules to use the term “intellectual disability” in the name of our current listings and in our other regulations. In so doing, we join other agencies that responded to the spirit of the law, even though Rosa's Law did not require them to change their terminology.
This is not the end of the r-word in common use, but it is a helpful step to people that work to be inclusive and welcoming in our country. It is helpful to know how to correctly and appropriately address others in your community. Please update your lexicon.
Read more about the change on the Federal Register website: