YES Alumnus Collins Shares his Gratitude for the Americans with Disabilities Act

In collaboration with various partners and organizations, iEARN-USA helps implement programs that provide opportunities for young people to experience meaningful international exchanges. One such program is the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program. The YES program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, provide scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the United States. Students live with host families, attend high schools, engage in activities to learn about American society and values, acquire leadership skills, and help educate Americans about their countries and cultures. 

While on program and after returning to their home country, YES students and alumni are encouraged to share about their program experiences by sharing their stories on the YES Program website. These stories created by YES students not only allow them to share their program experiences and showcase program impact but also provides resources and information for future YES students. One student, Collins, wrote about his gratitude for the Americans with Disabilities Act while on program and his disability advocacy work in his home country of Cameroon. His YES story is being shared below: 

Collins 1

My name is Collins Tadjon. I am from Bamenda, Cameroon and I am deaf.

I was a YES exchange student in Rosemount, Minnesota in the academic year 2017-2018. During my exchange year I learned about deaf culture, school, American sign language, and so much more.

When I lived in Rosemount, Minnesota, I lived with a host family who had deaf family members. Everyone in my family communicated using sign language — both my Deaf and hearing family members could sign. It was amazing. I was very excited because of my host family — it was so easy to communicate with them and I never had to worry. I am lucky to have had a family like that. I also had a temporary host family when I first arrived in the U.S. Both of my families were wonderful. 

The best part about living in Minnesota was my school because it was so accessible and there were many opportunities for me, even though I have a disability. I went to school at Metro Deaf School (MDS). MDS has a robust student life, activities, extracurriculars, and interpreters. It was a really good experience. One time, I went with some of my fellow students to Wisconsin to play a basketball game against the Wisconsin School for the Deaf. We ended up losing the game, but it was still fun because we all had dinner together before we went back to Minnesota. The student life was so fun at Metro Deaf School! 

I will never forget one of the things that surprised me the most in the U.S. — the closed captioning on television. I guess that this must be because of the Americans with Disabilities Act — television shows need to be compliant to the ADA law. With closed captioning the Deaf can understand what is happening in the show, but it also served as a way for me to learn more about verbs, vocabulary, and improve my writing. I would love to do this in Cameroon – make it so that all television shows have closed captioning.

I have been dreaming for a long time about how we can improve the situation for our deaf community in Cameroon. How can we create a special kind of communication? I decided to host two projects for the deaf community in Cameroon. The first project is all about teaching sign language to hearing people. For example, one of the struggles that deaf people have is going to the market to buy food or other items — it is challenging since the store owners don't understand sign language. So, my idea is to teach business people some simple sign language. 

I am the only deaf person in my family. Many people are used to communicating through gestures in the family, which isn’t always the best mode of communication. When families don't understand sign language it can isolate a Deaf person. Their family must know how to sign. It's very important to know sign language and be able to easily communicate in our Deaf community. 

A project that I completed in 2018 with fellow YES alumni was teaching at Emmanuel Sisterhood Center (ESC). There are many deaf people in the school, but not everyone knows basic signs. I visited the school with alumni and we taught basic signs such as the alphabet and numbers. One of our goals was just to make people aware about sign language. Here are photos of the project I did in November 2018 during International Education Week about teaching sign language. 

I am really thankful to the U.S. Department of State and the YES program for giving me the opportunity to have a host family in Minnesota and attend such a great school.

Deaf Community Tshirts 1