Chuck Schumer Apologizes for 'Hurtful' Use of 'Retarded' for Disabled Children

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has apologized for using the term "retarded" when referring to disabled children during an interview with a podcast on Sunday,

Schumer spoke to the One NYCHA podcast about housing initiatives designed to serve vulnerable people and historic resistance from local communities to such projects.

At one point in the discussion, Schumer referred to "retarded children." "Retarded" is now considered an outdated and offensive term and has been largely eliminated from federal statues.

Schumer was discussing his time in the New York state legislature between 1975 and 1980, when the term was more commonly used.

"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," Schumer said.

"We got it done. Took a while," the Democrat added. The project in question was linked to the Association for the Help of Retarded Children (AHRC), according to Politico. The group no longer uses the word "retarded" but has kept the acronym.

"People are afraid, you know, I understand that," Schumer said of opposition to the project. "When there's change and they're not given the things they need — safety and security — they get afraid. But you've got to address the real issues, not the fake issues."

On Monday, a spokesperson for Schumer apologized for the senator's use of an "inappropriate and outdated word" and highlighted his work on behalf of disabled people during his political career.

"For decades, Sen. Schumer has been an ardent champion for enlightened policy and full funding of services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities," the spokesperson said in a statement sent to Newsweek.

"He used an inappropriate and outdated word in his description of an effort he supported that was led by the AHRC to build a group home in his Brooklyn district decades ago to provide housing and services to children with developmental disabilities. He is sincerely sorry for his use of the outdated and hurtful language."

In 2010, then-President Barack Obama signed a piece of legislation known as Rosa's Law. Named for Rosa Marcellino, a girl with Down Syndrome, it eliminated the phrase "mentally retarded" from most federal statutes.

Obama said in 2010 that the legislation "amends the language in all federal health, education and labor laws to remove that same phrase and instead refer to Americans living with an 'intellectual disability.'"

The former president quoted Rosa Marcellino's brother, Nick, saying: "What you call people is how you treat them. If we change the words, maybe it will be the start of a new attitude towards people with disabilities."

The term "retarded" was once in common usage as a way to describe mentally disabled people and not widely considered offensive at the time Schumer was discussing it. The Democrat was born in 1950 and is 70-years-old.

Chuck Schumer Speaks at a Press Conference
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) speaks at a press conference following a Senate Democratic luncheon on Capitol Hill on June 08, 2021 in Washington, DC. Schumer has issued an apology for using the term "retarded" during a podcast. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images