One Step Closer to Erasing the R-word

This week marks a great victory for disability advocates across the country.  The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) announcement of its proposal to stop using the term “mental retardation” and start using “intellectual disability” in its official Listing of Impairments and other regulations, is a victory larger than it may seem to many.  This decision brings us one step closer to a world free of the R-word.

Just think, this victory comes just over two years after President Obama signed Rosa’s Law, which substituted the stigmatizing word with the terms “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” in federal health, education, and labor policy statutes.  Some might think two years is a long time, but the thousands of advocates like me who have spent decades working in the disability policy field know that change like this doesn’t come quickly or easily.

Today’s announcement is all the more remarkable because SSA takes this step voluntarily. Rosa’s Law did not specifically include Social Security or Supplemental Security Income, but SSA is making this change because it’s the right thing to do.

We know how powerful words are.  Words also represent you and your viewpoint, and we can all be happy that SSA is taking a step to change the words being used in their official documents to better promote the civil rights of individuals with I/DD.  The R-word isn’t just a word, it is a stigmatizing term that the disability community has been fighting against for years, and this week we are a step closer to banishing it from our government and our society.

But it’s not over yet – we need your help to keep the momentum going!

SSA will not be able to finalize this change until it goes through the rulemaking process required of all federal agencies.  SSA issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to stop using the R-word on Monday, January 28th.  The public has 30 days to comment – and SSA needs to hear from you!

Please visit the Federal eRulemaking portal at  Use the Search function to find docket number SSA-2012-0066 and then submit comments in support of ending the R-word. Comments are due on February 27, 2013.

One thought on “One Step Closer to Erasing the R-word

  1. I think this is a wonderful step in the right direction. I hear so many people use thee r-word everyday and I am the one to look at them and say, “you really shouldn’t use that word.” What many people don’t realize is that saying, “That’s retarded” is just as bad as saying “that’s so gay.” People seem to think that individuals with disabilities aren’t offended by this use because they “don’t understand” Truth is – they COMPLETELY understand. Society needs to be conditioned to stop the use of the r-word just like they have been conditioned to stop saying “that’s so gay.” I understand that people mey not mean to offend anyone when they say it, but they need to be told that they are. When I first met my college roommate freshman year, we were talking and I brought up Spread the Word to End the Word and she said “Yeah…I say that a lot and I know I shouldn’t. Just point it out to me when I say it so I notice and stop.” And she did stop. She because more aware of what she was saying and now helps me spread the word by telling people not to use the r-word. It’s going to take time, but at least it is recognized as a derogatory term.

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