While over the past decade the majority of the English-speaking world has
distanced itself from the term “mental retardation,” it was only on Sunday that
the Hebrew language was officially upgraded in its reference to people with
intellectual and development disabilities.
In an official announcement
Monday, Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon said the official term
will change from “adam im pigur sichli” or a person with mental retardation, to
“adam im mugbelet sichli hitpatchut” or a person with intellectual and
“The change in name will offer more respect to
people with developmental disabilities and prevent humiliation for them,”
explained the minister in an official announcement.
He added that
changing the terminology would not only boost that population’s position in
Israeli society but would also help to address some of the stigmas surrounding
the words “pigur sichli” or retarded.
Kahlon said that since taking over
the ministry more than a year ago, he has been flooded with requests from
parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities asking for
an alternative frame of reference than “mental retardation” because, he said,
“the term is humiliating and does not reflect the reality of their children’s
According to information provided by the ministry, in April
the minister established a committee charged with researching and proposing the
new terminology, and immediately after receiving its recommendations on Sunday,
he instructed the ministry’s director- general Nahum Itzkovich to adopt the new
“The new term reflects the goals of the Ministry of Welfare and
Social Services,” said Kahlon. “I have no doubt that it is more appropriate and
will help improve the standing of all people with disabilities.”
explaining the new terminology, a ministry spokeswoman said that emphasizing
“person with…” highlights the fact that first and foremost a person with a
disability is a person in the “ordinary sense, basic and full definition of the
word.” Adding the words “intellectual or developmental disability” acts as a
safeguard so that such people will receive the rights, benefits and services
owed to them under law, she said, adding that it will also enable them to be
part of a unique community of people with general disabilities, who are
recognized under the law to receive equal rights.
The ministry also
pointed out that throughout the committee’s deliberations there had been some
debate over the replacement terminology, with representatives of AKIM: The
National Association for the Habilitation of Children and Adults with
Intellectual Disabilities suggesting “intellectual impairment” or “people with
special needs.” Kahlon’s committee felt these terms to be too broad and not
unique to this particular sector of the population.
The official change in
position comes several years after similar moves were enacted in the
English-speaking world and will likely take a few more years to filter down into
everyday dialogue in mainstream society.
On a global level, the change in
terminology was sparked in 2001 when the World Health Organization’s
International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health modified and
broadened the definition of a “disability.” Following this, discussions began on
how language and reference impacted the place of people with disabilities, and
in 2006, the American Association on Mental Retardation decided to change its
name to the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental
Four years later, legislation known as Rosa’s Law was
passed in the US formally replacing “mental retardation” with “intellectual
disability” in all federal health, education and labor policy. Under that law,
individuals with disabilities kept their rights – but the terminology was to be
modified as laws and documents came up for revision.