In October 2010, Congress passed Rosa’s Law (Public Law 111-256) which changed references of “mental retardation” in specified federal laws to “intellectual disability.” Historically, the medical profession, our legal system and our laws have struggled with labeling a person with intellectual disorders. At the beginning of the 20th Century, persons with intellectual disorders suffered under pejorative names like “idiot,” “imbecile,” and “moron.” These names were used to describe a person’s IQ starting with the lowest and then advancing to a moderate score. By the late 20th century, these names were replaced by the term “mental retardation.”
Rosa Marcelino, a 9 year old girl from Maryland, who is afflicted with Down Syndrome helped changed the pejorative labels. Rosa, along with her parents and family, were instrumental in changing the law of Maryland so that the term “mental retardation” was removed from the health and education statutes of Maryland. That effort then went to the U.S. Congress. Both the Senate and House in 2010 unanimously passed a law amending the language in all federal health, education and labor laws removing the term “mental retardation” and in its place substituting the term “intellectual disabilities.” President Obama signed the bill into law. During the signing ceremony, President Obama quoted Nick, Rosa’ brother, as to the reason for the need of the bill: “What you call people is how you treat them. If we change the words, maybe it will be the start of a new attitude toward people with disabilities.” The federal law is named after Rosa.
In conformity with the mandate of Rosa’s Law, the Social Security Administration replaced the term “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” in its Listing of Impairments. (Cf. Change in Terminology “Mental Retardation” to “Intellectual Disability,” 78 Fed Reg. 46499 (2013).) This change was effective on August 1, 2013.