Social Security Administration Changes Terminology: Mental Retardation to Intellectual Disability

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The Social Security Administration is considering dropping the phrase “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” according to a Federal Register announcement made late January. A proposed rule was highlighted on Docket No. SSA-2012-0066 on January 28th, 2013.

This term is frequently used in the Listing of Impairments that Social Security uses to evaluate claims involving mental disorders in adults and children under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Since the term affects reimbursement for Social Security and other payments, the agency is receiving comments until February 27th.

Social Security was not mandated to change its terminology; however, this proposal is in response to Rosa’s Law which was passed in 2010 mandating Federal agencies to change references to “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability”. Rosa’s Law did not include titles II and XVI.

Rosa’s Law was named after Rosa Marcellino, a nine year old girl with Down Syndrome. Her family worked with state legislation to have the words “mentally retarded” officially removed from the health and education code in their home state of Maryland. On October 5th, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law. Rosa’s Law amends the language in all federal health, education and labor laws to remove that same phrase and instead refer to Americans living with an “intellectual disability.”

Comments can be submitted by Internet or fax and must refer to Docket No. SSA-2012-0066 and should only include information that you wish to make publicly available. Visit the Federal eRulemaking portal at and use the Search function to find docket number SSA-2012-0066. For fax, the number is (410) 966-2830.

Comments will be available for public viewing on the Federal eRulemaking portal at

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