The more you don’t want to stutter, the more you do. It’s like a Chinese finger trap where the tension between your fingers is the tension between your vocal chords. This paradox creates a vicious cycle where people who stutter (PWS) try not to stutter because they are ashamed or fearful of being made fun of, which then makes them stutter more, which makes them try to not stutter even more. This problem -- the idea that stuttering is worse than speaking fluently and should be hidden -- is deeply ingrained within society and must be addressed. Much of the 70 million PWS worldwide live in constant fear of talking and suffer from bullying, job discrimination, and depression.
One of our group members, Benji, is a PWS who has been going to speech therapy for 8 years. A key component of speech therapy is learning to accept stuttering as part of who you are and create a social/psychological atmosphere where you believe it is ok to stutter. This is meant to break the aforementioned vicious cycle by removing the belief that stuttering needs to be hidden. However, it is made much more difficult by how conditioned by society PWS are to avoid their stuttering. Thus, PWS need to practice this change of mentality in the real world as well as in speech therapy. Some examples of these “speech techniques” are: disclosing the fact that you stutter to other people to promote openness about stuttering (called advertising); stuttering in different ways to practice having control over vocal tension (called stuttering modification); or stuttering on purpose to teach your subconscious that stuttering doesn’t need to be avoided (called intentional stuttering) .
Many PWS find it very helpful to practice these “speech techniques”. However, this can be very difficult because of the willpower and vigilance needed to confront the fear of stuttering. We decided to address this problem by creating a virtual community where PWS can uplift and challenge each other to practice conquering their fear of stuttering.
What it does
Shareapy (pronounced like “share” and “therapy”) lets PWS post accomplishments of what speech techniques they have practiced in order to motivate themselves and one another to practice more. Users can also follow each other’s accounts to gain inspiration on what they can do to practice and gather an uplifting crowd to watch their accomplishments. To provide more direct motivation, users can challenge each other to do specific tasks, accept other users’ challenges, and earn points for each task completed, which move them towards goals that are displayed on their profile. Also, there is a page of information about stuttering and where to find resources such as online speech therapy. Altogether, this creates an uplifting community that helps PWS live freely and speak fearlessly.
How we built it
Challenges we ran into
We found it difficult to work on the same files of the app because all of us are relatively inexperienced using git and github. Also, we ran into difficulty with package management.
What we learned
We learned how to make a mobile application using React Native as the framework for the front end. Most of us had very limited experience with these platforms, and working on the app consisted of a lot of picking things up as we went; limited familiarity with using VS Code and Expo offered a lot of opportunities to learn. Along with this, we gained experience using a cloud system such as Firebase to store data and for programming the back end of a mobile application.
What's next for Shareapy
In the future, we hope to connect Shareapy more closely with speech therapists by building features that let special users create weekly plans for their clients and track their progress in real time. Along with this, we hope to expand Shareapy to different types of therapy, such as specific phobia disorder and social anxiety disorder, which use very similar therapy techniques as stuttering. An estimated 9.1% of Americans have specific phobia disorder and 7% have social anxiety disorder, so these improvements would be widely beneficial. Finally, we plan on adding additional functionality for users to post their accomplishments and challenges using voiceover recordings rather than text posts; this way people can be open about stuttering while celebrating their accomplishments, which will increase the benefit of the app’s postings.