By Cheri Rae
A friend and colleague just sent me an urgent e-mail with the subject line, “Can you do something about this?” I opened the attached photo and was surprised to see an image of a t-shirt display from a downtown shop. There were a number of slogans, but I realized immediately what he meant about “do something.”
The shirt read, “Dyslexics are teople poo.”
My friend who sent the picture isn’t involved in dyslexia advocacy to the level that I am, but he is pretty aware of the issue. He teaches a couple of classes at City College, and is a youth coach very committed to understanding different learning styles and adjusting his teaching and coaching accordingly.
As the mother of a son with dyslexia, as an advocate for the 1 in 5 individuals with it, as someone who raises awareness in the school district and the community, and with the concern expressed by my friend, I knew I had to “do something.”
So I put on my baseball cap embroidered with “The Dyslexia Project,” packed a copy of my book, “DyslexiaLand” and took a walk downtown to the t-shirt shop in question. Nestled between Restoration Hardware and Panera, the shop, Moon River, caters mostly to tourists. It is packed full with a huge selection of souvenir shirts about partying, Santa Barbara, the surf lifestyle, and the California state flag.
I went in the shop, introduced myself to the shop owners and politely expressed my concern to them: “I understand that you might not see it this way, but that slogan is disrespectful, hurtful and offensive to anyone who has dyslexia, or deals with dyslexia. Since dyslexia is so common, affecting 20 percent of the population, that’s a lot of people—and maybe they won’t want to come in to buy any of your shirts when they see that one on display outside the shop.”
At first they didn’t quite understand the concern. The gentleman who runs the shop told me that he is sent shirts from the supplier, and he just puts them on display. His co-worker was more argumentative: “You want to buy all the shirts?” she demanded. I told her no, that I just didn’t want them to carry that shirt anymore because it was so insulting. The shopkeeper explained to her the meaning of “poo,” and she seemed to understand. He turned back to me and agreed to remove the offending shirt from the outside display that evening.
When I returned home, I surfed the internet and saw that the not-so-clever slogan is sold all over the place—but this shop is the only one that’s been brought to my attention with a specific request to “do something” about it.
I went back to the shop a couple of days later, and—frankly to my surprise—the shirt was gone.
I went in and shook the owner’s hand, thanking him for making a difference and keeping his word. He smiled and dismissed me, likely happy to be done with the issue.
Back at home I asked my son—the easygoing 17-year-old who quietly deals with his dyslexia every day—what he thought, if he thought I’d made too much a deal of it. He paused for a moment, and said, “Mom, good for you for doing that. I think it’s one of those shirts where it’s just not a funny topic.”