Ragged Edge Online Home

The Organization Formerly Known As AAMR . . .

by Dave Reynolds (subscribe)

WASHINGTON, DC--After years of lobbying from members and non-members alike, the American Association on Mental Retardation will soon cease to exist.

During an election held last month, an overwhelming majority -- at least 85 percent of the 702 members who voted -- decided to change the name of the 131-year-old organization.

That vote was then followed with another, in which the largest number, 49 percent, selected "American Association on Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities" for the new name.

"We're very excited," President Valerie Bradley told Inclusion Daily Express by telephone at the end of June.

"We are in celebration mode."

Bradley said that efforts toward changing the name were primarily driven from the self-advocacy movement by people who had lived with the label of "mentally retarded" or "mental retardation".

"Self-advocates don't like the term 'retardation' because it is so heavily weighted in stigma," she explained.

Some members had told Inclusion Daily Express informally that they would cringe when they said or heard their organization's name.

"Also, nobody outside the United States even uses that term," Bradley said, which is an important point for the organization that boasts membership in at least 55 countries.

Bradley explained that the name change, which involved "a very inclusive process", would help the organization to "attract a new generation of members".

Bradley, whose term as president ended in June, said that the process of making the change official would still take several months, with details needing to be taken care of such as letterheads needing to be redesigned. She expected the official unveiling of the new name to take place at the first of next year.

She said she could not predict what implications the new name might have on policies regarding intellectual disabilities. Many government policies, including those that determine eligibility for such things as services and even the death penalty, rely on the AAMR's definitions of mental retardation.

Some critics who have opposed a name change insisted that such a decision would be driven entirely by political correctness, and that any new term would someday become negative, as has happened with the terms "idiot", "feeble-minded", and "mentally deficient".

The membership group was established in 1876 as the Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feebleminded Persons. As the name implies, most of its early members were institution administrators and staff. In 1906, it became the American Association for the Study of the Feebleminded. For much of the last century it was known as the American Association on Mental Deficiency before becoming the American Association on Mental Retardation in the late 1980s.

Bradley said the new name is a reflection of its more inclusive membership.

The name change is also reflective of a change in attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities, many of whom have pushed for all forms of the word "retardation" to be dropped from names of agencies and organizations across the country. For example, what had been formed in 1953 as the National Association for Retarded Children became simply The Arc of the United States in 1992. Three years ago this month, President Bush, urged on by members, changed the name of the President's Committee on Mental Retardation to the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

Even the Voice of the Retarded, a pro-institution group that has steadfastly held onto its use of the "R-word", has apparently taken a less rigid stance as of late, at least on its website: Most of the new web pages include the name VOR, with no mention of the word "retarded".

Copyright 2006 Inonit Publishing
Article reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express international disability rights news service. Please do not reprint, republish or forward without permission.