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Special Education

Agencies Starting To Drop “Retarded” Label

By Christina A. Samuels — June 25, 2010 1 min read
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While legislators are pushing to drop the term “mentally retarded” from the federal government’s lexicon, other groups and organizations are making that change on their own, according to this article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Government agencies have been renaming themselves to drop the words "mentally retarded" from offices that serve people with special needs. Starting July 1, the Allegheny County Office of Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities will be known as the Allegheny County Office of Intellectual Disability. "The term 'mentally retarded' focused only the limitations of people, that somehow these were people who were substandard," said Donald Clark, deputy director of the office, which comes under the county Department of Human Services. "People with intellectual disabilities can live productive lives."

The article quotes some other agency name changes, like the “American Association on Mental Retardation” becoming the “American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.”

One organization that I’ve dealt with professionally, The Arc of the United States, has changed its name several times over the decades. Before the most recent incarnation, it was the Association for Retarded Citizens of the United States.

(The only problem with the current name, from a reporter’s point of view, is that it retains no obvious connection to intellectual disabilities. In every story I find myself having to explain what the organization is on the off chance someone thinks I might be talking about the American Red Cross.)

I’m curious to know what readers think about the term “special needs,” which is showing up as a synonym for any number of disability categories. I don’t like it because it is inexact, and because it also sounds a little too cutesy and euphemistic. Am I wrong about that?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.