Deafness hasn’t stopped him from accomplishing any of his goals.
Elliott, who has been employed with the Walker County Board of Education as a network technician for the past 10 years, is originally from the Jasper area.
So how does he communicate with other technicians, teachers and students who don’t know sign language? The answer is found in his field of expertise — technology.
“I’m using an iPad, as you can see, and I have a connection with my interpreter on his iPad. The interpreter will interpret everything they hear. The interpreter isn’t even in the same state I’m in, unfortunately; they’re several states away,” Elliott said.
Things haven’t always been as simple as looking at a video, tapping a few touch-screen buttons and communicating with family and friends over a computer.
Elliott remembers wearing an old-fashioned FM system, i.e. a box strapped to his chest with wires leading up to his hearing aids.
“What’s interesting is at that time, I realized, ‘Why am I wearing this big box with wires? No one else is wearing them but me,’” Elliott said. “So, I thought everyone was deaf. I thought no one could hear growing up until I wore this box, and then I realized I was different. I’m not like them.”
When Elliott was younger, there weren’t any deaf programs in the local public school systems, and there weren’t many opportunities available for him in the community.
Around the age of 6, his parents still couldn’t communicate with him very well. He was then sent to live in the dorms, Monday through Friday, at the Alabama School for the Deaf in Talladega. He only saw his family on the weekends.
“Prior to that, I couldn’t communicate with other kids. At the Alabama School for the Deaf, everyone was like me,” Elliott said. “It was wonderful. My communication skills developed quickly. I missed being with family, though, and got homesick. Around 1988, Curry established a program for the deaf, and my parents then transferred me from the Alabama School for the Deaf to the Curry school, starting from the time I was in third grade up until my senior year.”
While attending Curry, Elliott met Linnea — now his wife of almost 10 years — who is also hard of hearing. Elliott says she can speak and hear fairly well with her hearing aids, but without them she can’t hear at all. Linnea now teaches in the deaf program at Curry for kindergarten through 12th-grade students.
“We started dating when she was 16. Like all other couples, we’d communicate like normal hearing couples,” Elliott said. “I had dated hearing girls, and it was difficult because they’re not deaf like me. Communication was tough. With my wife, communication was easy. The culture and the language all fit together.”
Now webcams, video phones, iPads, tablets, etc., have made it possible for those in the deaf community to communicate with people who don’t know sign language.
But, when asked if Elliott considers his deafness a handicap, he replied, “No, I don’t think it’s a big barrier. It’s not a handicap. I don’t feel that way; however, the viewpoints of other people think I can’t do this or that things are blocked and I won’t know what to do. ... I can write, I can read, I can communicate, I do know what to do. It progressed from there and got better and better.”
Elliott is one of seven children born to Virginia and the late Floyd Elliott. He has four sisters, a brother who has since passed away and one older brother who is also deaf, but from different circumstances. Elliott says he is very fortunate to have a great family support system, as well as support from his wife’s side of the family — especially his father-in-law, David Hendon, the former principal at Curry Middle School.
“My entire family supported me. ... I was a little nervous to be honest [when hired by the board of education]. I was a little nervous on what they thought of me. How did they feel about me being on the team? Did they accept me with me being deaf?” Elliott questioned.
“Eight [individuals] applied. I gave them all tests, and he was the only one to ace the test,” said Allen Taylor, network administrator for the county school system. “I knew then he was definitely the right person, but I was still conflicted as to how I could communicate with him. I decided I could make this work. I could communicate with him.”
Teachers and others eventually started adapting to Elliott. But, what Elliott wants individuals to understand about the deaf community is that “They can do anything but hear. With the technology, they can really do anything. Anything is a possibility. The possibilities are unlimited for deaf people.”
He says the important part and the key to deaf people becoming successful are parents and teachers.
“Teachers have to foster these deaf kids to know they have the ability to develop their skills and to know what their skills are, and parents who are raising kids who are deaf. ... I encourage parents and teachers in schools who don’t know anything [about deaf individuals] to understand that they can have full access and communications for their needs. For their future work, they’re able to do anything.”
He also encourages companies to not be afraid of deaf individuals. Elliott said they have skills and talents like anyone else, and there are varieties of different communication tools now available to break down that barrier.
“Technology today is fantastic, and the potential is unlimited for deaf people. Most of the time, I think companies maybe don’t have the understanding of how to communicate or have confidence on how they will interact with a deaf person,” Elliott said. “But to a deaf person, they’re the same as a hearing person; they’re human beings like everybody else. There are emotions, there’s sad and happy and everything else. The only difference is having and using the technology to communicate, otherwise it’s exactly the same. There is no difference.”
Elliott added that without the deaf program at Curry and his families’ support, he wouldn’t be the person he is today.
“I really want to say thank you. Thank you for featuring me as a person, not just as a deaf person, but using my skills to help other people with education, helping children and teachers and staff members throughout the entire county,” Elliott said. “I enjoy that work, and I’m very appreciative of it. I just want to thank everybody.”