Celebrating Stuttering Awareness Day 2021

Published October 22, 2021

Maya Chupkov is tired of the same old narratives around stuttering and that’s why she’s chosen to start a podcast, “Proud Stutter”. The San Francisco-based communications manager hopes the podcast she’s launching on Oct. 22, International Stuttering Awareness Day, can help shift the discussion about the disability and offer more opportunities for discussion and change.

“Growing up, I always felt this pressure to overcome my stuttering and if you look at a lot of the articles out there, a lot of them are around this overcoming stuttering, right? Like, that is a really prevalent narrative out there and so I would try desperately every day to hide it, or to at least make it appear that I've overcome it when really the focus should be on what can be done to make our quality of life better.”

According to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, over 68 million people worldwide stutter – including approximately three million Americans. Stuttering has come into a larger public focus in the US thanks to President Joe Biden acknowledging the disability as part of his lived experience. Chupkov says that both Biden and journalist John Hendrickson – who wrote a feature in the Atlantic, entitled “What Joe Biden Can’t Bring Himself to Say” that weaves the writer’s lived experience with that of the president navigating his stutter on the world’s biggest stages – are two dream guests for the podcast. For her, they counter the current narrative tied to stuttering in popular culture.

“There's a lot of problematic phrases like ‘Did I stutter? that really got popularized from TVs and, and movies and [the podcast can show] how w-w-w-we can instead use pop culture to m-m-make the narrative more reflective of actual lived experiences of people who stutter and how problematic it really is to have these phrases repeatedly sh-sh-show up in real life.”

Chupkov isn’t alone in her effort. She’s joined by long-time friend, Cynthia Chin who acts as a co-host and editor. Chupkov says their dynamic, with Chin not being a stutterer, allows for a different viewpoint to be showcased.

“Me having a stutter and her, kind of, having that outsider perspective, I think it's really a great dynamic because she's learning along with the listeners about stuttering.”

Chin is an educator and, like with many disabilities, stuttering is often first noticed in childhood classrooms. According to research, ≈5% of children will stutter for a period of six months or more. According to the Moody College of Communication, that leaves approximately 1% with a lifelong disability.

Maya said her experience in school had teachers deducting marks from her class presentations because they assumed she just wasn’t prepared. Really, it was just her stutter. She says part of her frustration now is that society’s expectations made her hide parts of herself to fit in and that being able to offer upcoming episodes about dating and popular culture allows her to connect with the world in a truer way.

“I arrange my life around speaking fluently, and I'm expected to function normally in a society that is, that is not built for me. And as someone whose stuttering is covert, I'm so hard on my-myself and every time I stutter, I t-t-tend to fall apart and judge myself. But what I've come to realize through opening up about my stutter is, you know, I'm not being my auth-authentic self, when I'm not … when I'm t-t-t-trying to hide my stutter.”

To get a taste of the podcast you can listen to the show’s trailer. Proud Stutter is available through Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Episodes will drop every two weeks.

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