Social Security Administration to Replace “Mental Retardation” with “Intellectual Disability”


In a process that began in January 2013, the Social Security Administration (SSA) began eliminating the term “mental retardation” and replacing it with “intellectual disabilities” in its listing of impairments and official rules, regulations and other documents.

The new rule was published on the first of August, and went into effect at the end of that month. Almost three years earlier, President Obama signed “Rosa’s Law,” which set the stage for the elimination of the term “mental retardation” in numerous government laws and documents.

Though the SSA was not mandated by Rosa’s Law to make these changes, the administration opted to implement them of their own accord. People who have in the past received a diagnosis of “mental retardation” will not lose their current benefits, nor will the new terminology affect eligibility of applicants seeking SSA benefits.

As with advocates for people with disabilities across the country, the staff and content developers at the DirectCourse/College of Employment Services (CES) are hailing this decision. As people with intellectual disabilities are becoming increasingly integrated into the mainstream workplace, it is essential that attitudes evolve as well. Eliminating outdated and offensive terminology is a great step in that direction.

Employment professionals who understand the history of disability in America will appreciate the significance of this decision, but also understand that these are merely steps in a longer journey toward total inclusion. CES courses like Foundations of Employment Services can help employment specialists to broaden their understanding of the complex history of disability.

Foundations of Employment Services, and other CES courses, provide the ethical background to promote empathy and understanding around disability and employment. These are essential components to building an employment services career and providing the best support possible.

To read the Social Security Administration’s final ruling, please visit:

To read the full text of Rosa’s Law, please visit:

For more information on the College of Employment Services, please visit:

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