Reading Time: < 1 minute

Wisconsin Watch partners with Gigafact to produce fact briefs — bite-sized fact checks of trending claims. Read our methodology to learn how we check claims.


Although Rosa’s Law, passed in 2010, removed some references to “mental retardation” in federal law, others remain.

A bill introduced May 5, 2023, by Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat, would remove the terms “mentally retarded” and “mental retardation” from federal law.

Under the “Words Matter Act,” the terms would be replaced with “intellectual disability.”

“Federal law should reflect the time in which we live and not include harmful words or slurs,” Pocan said in a statement.

The bipartisan measure has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

The American Psychiatric Association defines intellectual disability as problems with mental abilities that affect learning, problem solving, judgment and daily life activities such as communication and independent living.

“Mentally retarded” and “mental retardation,” once common, are considered outdated and offensive, according to the National Center on Disability and Journalism.

This Fact Brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.

Sources S.2781 – Rosa’s Law of 2010

US Congress H.R.3111 – Words Matter Act of 2023

WisPolitics U.S. Rep. Pocan, colleagues: Introduce Words Matter Act

American Psychiatric Association What is Intellectual Disability?

The Hill Bipartisan bill would strike ‘outdated and derogatory language’ on intellectual disability from federal law

National Center on Disability and Journalism Disability Language Style Guide

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Tom Kertscher joined as a Wisconsin Watch fact checker in January 2023 and contributes to our collaboration with the The Gigafact Project to fight misinformation online. Kertscher is a former longtime newspaper reporter, including at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has worked as a self-employed journalist since 2019. His gigs include contributing writer for PolitiFact and sports freelancer for The Associated Press.