Once a common way to describe people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “mental retardation” is a term no longer in favor or employed by The Arc. The Arc also advocates for the use of people-first language that puts the person before the disability. For example, it is better to say person with autism instead of autistic person. Similarly, instead of disabled person, person with a disability is preferred. The Arc serves people with disabilities not “disabled” or “handicapped” people.

Chester County, Pennsylvania residents have been on the forefront of eradicating the term “mental retardation.” After learning about the campaign to end the use of the “R” word at The Arc of the United States’ 2009 National Convention, members of the Chester County Self-Determination Action Team Self-Advocate Sub-Committee returned to Chester County to effect systemic change in Pennsylvania. The team led a successful campaign to speak out against the use of the “R” word. They shared how hurtful the use of the “R” word is and asked Chester County residents to sign a pledge to not use the “R” word in a hurtful or derogatory way.

The campaign inspired the Chester County Department of Mental Health/Mental Retardation to officially change its name to the Chester County Department of Mental Health/Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Also citing inspiration from the team is Pennsylvania Senator Andrew Dinniman who introduced Senate Bill 458. Passed by both the House and Senate, then signed into law by Governor Corbett in 2011, the bill eliminated the use of the term “mental retardation” in the Mental Health/Mental Retardation Act of 1966. People-first language will now be used instead.