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Language change for Social Security disability conditions

The language we use to talk about disabilities is important. Disabled individuals and the people who care for them know that some terms used to describe a disabling condition are offensive, and the Social Security Administration recently announced plans to strike one such term from official documents.

In particular, the SSA intends to replace the offensive term "mental retardation" with the better suited term "intellectual disability." "Mental retardation" carries negative connotations and offends many people. The term also causes misunderstandings regarding the exact mental condition a person has.

Advocacy groups have been pushing for the change for years. Rosa's Law, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2010, already requires new federal policies pertaining to health, labor and education to replace "mental retardation" with "intellectual disability." The SSA, however, wasn't required to make the change, but now officials are responding to the impact of the offensive language.

The switch will not change the way the administration evaluates disability claims, but being compassionate about the language used to describe disabilities is extremely important in protecting disabled individuals' civil rights.

A similar rule was proposed in 2010, when the SSA sought to update the criteria to receive Social Security payments for mental disorders. In that proposal, officials also intended to use "intellectual disability," but the suggested change wasn't acted upon.

The SSA has a list of mental conditions and intellectual disabilities that make many Wisconsin residents eligible for disability benefits. Intellectually disabled individuals or their caregivers should be aware of their options for applying for and receiving the help they need and deserve.

Source: Disability Scoop, "Social Security Proposes Dropping 'Mental Retardation'," Michelle Diament, Jan. 29, 2013

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