For more than a decade, photographer Monie deWit and I have lived just a couple blocks apart in Bungalow Haven; raising our children in our quirky, old-fashioned neighborhood, we have often met for summertime picnics with a group of neighbors at Alice Keck Memorial Garden.
We always knew we were kindred spirits, with our shared interest in historic preservation; what we didn’t know is that during the school years, we were both fighting the same fight—working tirelessly to get a proper education for our dyslexic sons, and advocating for others as well.
When we finally figured that out, we excitedly shared ideas about a creative dyslexia-themed project each of us had always had in the back of our minds—only she needed a writer, and I needed a photographer. When we teamed up, something special happened. We’re now two moms on a mission to make dyslexia more visible and more understandable in a creative way that informs minds and touches hearts.
The photojournalism project, “1 in 5: The Face of Dyslexia in Santa Barbara and Beyond,” is a work-in-progress created to showcase—in artistic photographs and personal reflections—the diversity of the dyslexia experience, which affects 20 percent of the population. In January, it was displayed at the Central Library, and we’ve been asked to photograph individuals in Orange County for a community event in October for Dyslexia Awareness Month.
Dyslexia is not a mystery. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not about seeing things backward, and does not indicate a lack of intelligence. It is a hereditary neurological difference in the brain that affects an individualís ability to read, write and spell (hence the meaning of dyslexia = trouble with words). This can be addressed with intensive one-on-one intervention, not commonly known by educators or adopted in our schools.
If you’re not personally touched by dyslexia, you likely know someone who is: The child struggling to read; the teen feeling like school is a place for other, smarter students; the young woman in her first job, trying to keep her poor spelling a secret; the new father too embarrassed to read a book out loud to his children; the professional terrified to take a test required for career advancement; the senior citizen reduced to tears at the memory of elementary school shame endured decades ago.
These unnecessary humiliations often overshadow the positive characteristics of dyslexia that include creativity, thoughtful problem-solving and outside-the-box thinking. Count among accomplished dyslexic strengths the musical talent of John Lennon, the creativity of Pablo Picasso, the brilliance of Albert Einstein, the innovation of Steve Jobs, the athleticism of Magic Johnson, the entrepreneurialism of Sir Richard Branson, and the storytelling of Fannie Flagg.
Even more significant than the ever-growing list of famous and accomplished individuals with dyslexia is the wealth of information gained from personal insights shared by the cross-section of the population who deal with it every day of their lives.
In our time in the studio and on location, we’ve met individuals whose dyslexic experience transcends boundaries of cultural identity, financial status, ethnic heritage and community standing. With grace, honesty and a spirit of generosity, they have shared their innermost thoughts, sometimes haltingly, often with great relief, frequently with tears, hugs and a warm feeling of connection with others.
The result? Conversations we need to hear, images we need to see, compassion we need to cultivate, and changes we need to make.
“1 in 5: The Face of Dyslexia in Santa Barbara and Beyond” is on view at the Book Den in October, with Cheri Rae signing her new book, DyslexiaLand: A Field Guide for Parents of Children with Dyslexia, on October 4. To participate in this project, contact TheDyslexiaProject@gmail.com. This project made possible thanks to a grant from the Kirby-Jones Family Foundation.
This story was originally published in the fall 2018 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.