Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Removing "Mental Retardation" from Federal statutes

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill (unanimously!) to strike the words "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" from many Federal statutes, replacing those terms with the words "intellectual disability" and "individual with an intellectual disability." Read the full text of the bill here.

Within the context of special education laws, the bill will mean that wherever "mental retardation" is referred to (for example, when discussing eligibility categories), that term will be stricken and replaced with "intellectual disability." The same applies to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The law is called "Rosa's law" and is named for a child with Down Syndrome from Maryland. You can read about Rosa's story, including the inspirational testimony of her brother Nick in a hearing before representatives of the Maryland General Assembly, in this press release from Senator Barbara Mikulski's office, or in ABC News' story about the law and the family that inspired it.

This is only one step, albeit an important one, among many that will be needed to stop the R word. Changing the designation in laws may not stop the use of the R word as a derogatory slang or insult, but it is certainly a step in the right direction in terms of societal awareness.


  1. Saw this on another site not too long ago. This is certainly good news. If we want people to be civil and ethical about their choice of words, a good start is with our legal documents!

  2. I wholeheartedly agree! Thanks for your comment!

  3. I just wanted to say thank u for removing the mental retardation and mentally retarded it just hurts when people call the people with disability that name.

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  5. Mental retardation continues to be listed by our school district as a disability that qualifies for special education. How can I overcome the ignorance that still persists and find the way to get this terminology replaced
    as Rosa's Law stipulates?

    Helen Walter
    September 8, 2011

  6. Helen,
    Thanks for posting your comment! I have heard this from others as well, and I think it is a matter of educating school districts and communities, which unfortunately takes time. A good starting place would be to draft a letter to your school district special education director (and possibly superintendent) making them aware of Rosa's Law and its implications. If your school district persists in this despite awareness that they are obligated to change this language, it may be something worth bringing to the attention of the school board.