Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer used an outmoded word to refer to developmentally disabled children during a recent podcast appearance.
Appearing on the One NYCHA podcast, Schumer used the word “retarded” in making a point about the challenge of overcoming community resistance to housing initiatives meant to serve vulnerable populations.
“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, referring to the time he spent representing parts of Brooklyn in the New York legislature from 1975-1980 prior to serving in Congress.
“These are harmless kids. They just needed some help,” he said, adding that the effort was ultimately successful. “We got it done. Took a while.”
The term is considered outdated and offensive by many, and advocates for people with mental and intellectual disabilities discourage its usage. Schumer’s office did not immediately return a request to comment.
In 2010 President Barack Obama signed a law striking the term “mentally retarded” from the bulk of federal statutes and replaced it with other terms, and New York enacted a similar law in 2011.
Schumer’s offhand comment came about midway through the more-than-hourlong appearance on the podcast, video of which was posted Sunday on the group’s Facebook page, which covers issues related to public housing in New York City and the lives of its residents.
“People are afraid, you know, I understand that,” Schumer said, continuing his original point. “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.”