Schumer’s use of the ‘r-word’ exhibits ongoing drawback with altering the narrative round disability

Senator Chuck Schumer came under fire this week after using an offensive and outdated term to describe children with disabilities. He used a word many people have heard before – but he may not be aware of how harmful its use is to the disabled community.

WARNING: A warning to our listeners / readers, this story contains the offensive language to explain the story and the background to its use.

WBFO’s Emyle Watkins reports.

Schumer used the world when he was a guest on the OneNYCHA podcast on Sunday. In a broad-based conversation, he and the hosts began to discuss housing efforts for marginalized populations. When describing a dormitory for children with disabilities that he campaigned for in the 1970s, Schumer used a word that has long been considered an ableist calumny.

“When I was a Member of Parliament for the first time, they wanted to build a communal residence for disabled children. The whole neighborhood was against it. They are harmless children. They just needed some help, “said Schumer.

Most of us have heard the word “delayed” before. It goes deep for the disabled community – the word has a history not known to many that is linked to the limitation or denial of rights for people with disabilities.

Dr. Andrew Marcum is program coordinator at the Center for Self Advocacy in Buffalo and teaches disability studies at the City University of New York.

“When Schumer used that word, all I can think of is how counterproductive it was, you know, he was trying to help people and dehumanizing them at the same time, it’s very self-destructive.”

Marcum explains that when people with disabilities began dropping out of facilities in the 1970s – around the time Schumer said he was advocating housing construction – activists asked that the word “lagged” be allowed to retire put.

“When advocates for people with intellectual disabilities started leaving institutions in the 1970s, one of the first things they did for a campaign was please stop calling us disabled. Please stop using the word disabled dehumanize. We don’t want you to stop using this word. Because we haven’t lagged behind. We are people like you, because just because we experience the world differently, process information differently, speak differently, doesn’t mean we’re slow, doesn’t it doesn mean that we are handicapped. We are handicapped by your attitudes and social structures, not by our handicap, “said Marcum.

The word comes from the medical world and is associated with the medical model of disability – the idea that people with disabilities are somehow “restricted” because of a diagnosis. The activists described by Marcum, however, view disability in a different way – through the social model, which is the belief that rights and access for people with disabilities are restricted by societal perceptions and systems, not through diagnosis. Many activism efforts, including those to change people’s language, are rooted in this change of perspective.

And although it’s been 50 years since people first called out the change, it wasn’t officially recognized by the United States government until 11 years ago. A bill called Rosa’s Law, which was signed during the Obama administration, replaced the references to “intellectual disability” with “intellectual disability” in federal law.

Rebecca Cokley is the Ford Foundation’s US disability rights commissioner, but was working in the White House when Rosa’s bill was passed. She remembers hearing the word used in almost every Washington, DC bar at the time.

“It’s so offensive, you know, it was part of the justification for sterilizing people with intellectual disabilities, separating education and employment from people with disabilities, and frankly, institutionalizing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Cokley

In particular, the use of the word by Schumer also shows where the USA still stands in dealing with people with disabilities.

“It shows us, you know, how far we still have to go and how we, to be honest, people with disabilities, be we very concrete, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, are not seen as equal or worthy of respect” leaders of our nation “, said Cokley.

Cokley and Marcum agree that people need to understand the perspective, history and culture of the disabled community for real change to take place. Cokley recommends that people take the time to look inside and do research for themselves.

“As a person with a disability, I think that so often we are forced to be self-narrative zoo exhibits, the notion of how we are forced to do all of this training for the non-disabled public to make life better.” to make life easier for us in the world. And at some point I think it’s really up to the non-disabled public to pick up a book to use Google and keep learning because we’ve been doing it since the beginning of time and frankly it’s exhausting “said Cokley.

Schumer’s spokesman issued a statement to Politico saying the senator “sincerely regrets his use of the outdated and hurtful language”.

Marcum adds, however, that in the future, everyone needs to take action to talk about disability and connect with the disabled community in order for real change to take place.

“Talk to these people, build communities, visit community forums where they can get involved, learn about the problems people with disabilities face, and educate yourself. And that gives you a lot more confidence to have conversations in a way that is very helpful and not hurtful. “

Some resources Marcum and Cokley recommended for learning more about disability:

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