‘What Would You Do?’: Illiterate man is harassed by café cashier

A man struggles to read the menu at a café and reluctantly tells the cashier he can’t read. What will people do when she belittles him in front of customers?
7:21 | 08/24/19

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Transcript for ‘What Would You Do?’: Illiterate man is harassed by café cashier
Hey, what can I get you? I'm really craving one of your milkshakes. What flavors do you have? They're on the wall right behind me. You know, I forgot my glasses. Okay. If you need a closer look. Thanks. But, well, I'll just say it. I can't read. It's a scenario we staged in jasper, Alabama. But adult illiteracy is very much a national issue. In fact, it affects 32 million adults in the U.S. The lack of reading skills can come with shame and harassment. And today this worker isn't helping. Look, if you can't read, why don't you go to the back of the line and let me help the educated customers. "What would you do?" Next? We set up our hidden cameras at lavish coffee bar. Hi, what can I get for you? And our actor Brad is making a stop for an afternoon snack. I would really like a milkshake. All our flavors are listed on the board behind me. Small writing. I can't -- Oh, here. Can you just tell what flavors you have? There they are. He reluctantly reveals his eyesight is fine. I don't read very well. Would you mind going through them for me? How do you not know how to read? This couple looks stunned by her question. It's okay, sir. I'll help you out. They have almond, amaretto, banana, butterscotch, caramel, caramel pecan, chocolate, cinnamon. Turns out that for them this situation is personal. My god, they have a lot flavors. Listen, I have an aunt that can't read, and it's legit, okay? That's very rude. I'm just asking a simple question. Your manager will know about that. I'm sorry. I don't mean to bother you. I have an aunt that can't read. I understand, I do. I really do. How does that even happen? It's called people having to go through a tough life sometimes, and you have to work. Where is your manager? Where is your manager? Hold on just a second. While she leaves to elevate her concerns, he lets our ignorant worker have it one last time. You should never talk to a customer that way, ever. I just serve coffee. Well, you should do your job and not criticize someone. I'm not criticizing him. I just don't -- You are absolutely criticizing. Everyone in here would agree with me, I bet you. And I'd have to say we agree as well. I'm John Quinones with "What would you do?" The TV show. Oh. We wanted to see who would help a man who's having trouble reading. I mean, someone can't read, they need help. We're here to help. What does this tell us about this little town in Alabama? We care about people. We reset the scene. You can't read? No, I'm sorry. I never learned. I don't mean to be a bother. I never met an adult who can't read. They watch in amazement. I quit school early. I went to work. I never learned to read. And now she jumps right in. Okay, well, there's almond. There's banana, caramel. There's chocolate, and cinnamon. Reciting the entire milkshake menu. There's also honey. That sounds really good. Patiently going through the long list of flavors one by one. I love the toasted marshmallow. Chocolate is like the go-to for me. We've got a lot of customers. Do you want to just put in an order? We're not in no hurry. Are you sure? Yeah. Keeping her calm when our server tries to speed things up. I'm so sorry to be a bother. Don't worry about it. My grandfather, he's a coal miner. He has trouble reading. He's great at math. But papa, he can't really read that much. And for the second time today we find someone personally affected by illiteracy. It's hard for me to understand how an adult can get through without being able to read. Yeah, he had to quit to help pay for everything. School was just not the priority. That's how it was. Struggled with it. Hi, how are you? Hi. It's "What would you do?" No. I watch this show all the time. It hurt your feelings to hear her criticize him? Why would you publicly humiliate this person in front of all these people? You know people who also can't read? Yeah, my grandfather. He was a coal miner, and he had to drop everything and go to work in the coal mine. They had to do what they had to do for their families. Throughout the day, as our barista continues to put Brad down -- It's not my problem you can't read. Let's go somewhere else. -- Some people leave in disgust. Others shake with anger. Listen, you need to stop. Others are just outraged by our employee's complete lack of respect. Are you serious? Why are you helping him? Because it's the right thing to do. It's being human. Wise words. But nothing prepared us for this last woman. Sir, do you want to order? I'm sorry. I just don't read too well. For Gayle crump, well, this situation hits close to home. I don't understand. Can you not read? Let's see. I'm sorry, ma'am. I don't mean to be a bother. So, all these can be milkshake flavors? Yeah. Why can't he read? At first she ignores the rude comments. Caramel I think might be really good. Chocolate, cinnamon. But after she hears this -- I'm pretty sure this is how he got into this situation in the first place. That's not an appropriate way to deal with somebody. This is really embarrassing. He needs to try. I should've learned how to read a long time ago. You don't talk to people that way. You don't know what opportunities this person's had or not had. I mean, do you know a lot of illiterate people? Well, we're about to find out. Yes, I do. I'm an educator. Turns out this is actually her life's work. Well, I can't believe in 2019 there's an adult who can't read. Then apparently you were brought up in a situation where you had every opportunity in education. Not everyone does. Not even today. Time to meet this incredibly compassionate woman. Hi there. Hi. I'm John Quinones with "What would you do?" She's an actress, and so is the man that needed help. You were really upset. Tell us why. I know people think that in 2019 every person has the same opportunities in education, but they don't. If you're a person who grows up in poverty, you may not grow up in a situation where you have access to public education. Or if you're someone who has a learning disability and you slip through the cracks, and sometimes they do. They do. I'm an educator, and so I think that's why this really -- Touches. Yeah, and we have parents who can't sign an excuse. They can't write an excuse and sign it for their children. They just don't want to say, "I'm illiterate." We've been filming all day, and every time we've done it, someone has spoken up. Why is that? We're a close-knit community. We're not an affluent community, but we're a community where people really still care about others. A community of people stepping forward, helping one another when in need.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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