Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer apologized on Monday for using an “outdated and hurtful” word to describe developmentally disabled people during a podcast interview.
While speaking on the One NYCHA podcast, Schumer used the word “retarded” while speaking about his experiences with communities resisting attempts to house the homeless and described an example during his work as a state assemblyman.
“When I first was an assemblyman, they wanted to build a congregate living place for retarded children. The whole neighborhood was against it,” Schumer said, “These are harmless kids. They just needed some help.”
One NYCHA, a group that covers issues related to housing in New York City, posted a video of the podcast on their page Sunday. On Monday Schumer’s use of the term drew widespread criticism, prompting an apology, issued through his office.
“For decades, Sen. Schumer has been an ardent champion for enlightened policy and full funding of services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Schumer’s spokesperson said in a statement Monday afternoon. “He is sincerely sorry for his use of the outdated and hurtful language.”
Considered offensive now, the term “retarded” and the related term “mental retardation” were originally neutral medical terms formally adopted during the 1960s to replace previous terminology that had become pejoratives in popular vernacular. The terms were themselves adopted as derogatory insults and by the early 2000s advocacy groups helped mainstream efforts to end their use.
Those efforts led to 48 states removing the terms from local statues by 2010, and that year President Obama signed Rosa’s Law, which removed the word from the majority of federal statutes.