Drew Angerer/Getty Senate Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer issued an apology on Tuesday after sparking criticism for referring to children with developmental disabilities as "retarded."
In a statement, the New York Democrat acknowledged that he had used an "inappropriate and outdated" term, saying that he was "sincerely sorry" for the language.
Schumer made the comments in question during a virtual interview on the OneNYCHA podcast on Sunday.
"When I first was an assemblyman, they wanted to build a congregate living place for retarded children," he said. "The whole neighborhood was against it. These are harmless kids, they just needed some help."
In a statement sent to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for Schumer said the lawmaker was a "champion" of those with "intellectual and development disabilities," noting that his original remarks referenced an effort let by the AHRC, a group previously known as The Association for the Help of Retarded Children.
According to AHRC's website, the organization chose to continue using its acronym though it no longer uses the words that the letters once represented. Instead, the group uses the terms "intellectual and other developmental disabilities," which are also utilized in state and federal law.
"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 statement from his office reads.
The statement continues: "He used an inappropriate and outdated word in his description of an effort he supported that was led by the AHRC to build a group home in his Brooklyn district decades ago to provide housing and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 He is sincerely sorry for his use of the outdated and hurtful language."
According to a study by data insights company Kantar, the term continues to be used with regularity on social media, despite being widely seen as a slur.
Kantar's research shows that when social media users post about those with intellectual disabilities, seven of every 10 of those posts are negative and six in 10 contain a slur such as the "r-word."
Groups including the Special Olympics and Best Buddies encourage people to end the use of the word, which they say "continues to push people with intellectual disabilities to the sidelines."
That measure removes the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" from federal health, education and labor policy, replacing them with the phrases, "individual with an intellectual disability" and "intellectual disability."