Rehoboth’s Johnny Elliott: Working in the world with no sound
Rehoboth Beach — At first glace, Johnny Elliott looks like anyone else who works for the Rehoboth Beach Public Works Department.
He comes in at 6 a.m. every day and works on little things the department does to keep the city looking good: painting, picking up yard waste and recycling, cutting grass and pulling weeds.
The only difference is, Elliott can't hear.
Having spent most of his life as a carpenter, Elliott began working for the city in April on a part-time basis. He got the job with the help of Mary Jo Verdery of Lower Shore Enterprises, which helps get jobs for workers with disabilities.
With Verdery translating Elliott’s signs, he said, “I was little bit unsure of everything, but I learned. I got used to everything. The guys I work with are nice. I love it. It’s great.”
Elliott communicates with supervisors and coworkers in several ways, often by either writing or pointing.
“I don’t have any problems communicating to my coworkers. We get a long good. A few of them have learned some signs, so we can communicate,” he said.
Originally from the Rehoboth area but now residing in Milford, Elliott has been hearing-impaired all his life.
“I was born with a high fever, and that’s when I became deaf,” he said.
Educated at Maryland School for the Deaf, Elliott said he accepted his handicap early on and worked through it. He lives by himself and drives himself to and from work every day.
Elliott has worked most of his life as a carpenter or painter and he had a carpentry/painting business in Easton, Md. with his brother, Robert. He will be working for public works through September.
“People really adjusted to working with me. I worked with them and showed them what I can do, and they adjusted. At first, everyone is awkward, but then it smooths out. A month or so and everybody kind of got used to me,” he said.
Elliott was previously married and has two grown sons and three grandchildren. All of his children are able to hear, but they are also good at sign language, he said.
“Everyone’s hearing except for me,” Elliott said.
City Manager Greg Ferrese said Verdery contacted him on Elliott’s behalf about the job. Ferrese and public works supervisor Mel Craig interviewed Elliott and decided to hire him.
“He’s doing an excellent job,” Ferrese said. “He’s really good at painting. Every job assignment we’ve been giving him has been good. He hasn’t missed a day. What more can you ask?”
Craig said Elliott’s coworkers look out for him, making sure he stays safe when going out on the recycling truck. Ferrese said they try to give him similar tasks everyday so Elliott is familiar with his surroundings. The only task Elliott doesn’t do is trash pickup.
“He’s treated the same as everyone else. He’s part of the group; he’s not an outcast,’ Craig said.
“My dad told me when I was growing up, there’s two kinds of horses: work horses and show horses. He’s a work horse,” Ferrese said.
“It’s been great. The job is great. There’s no stress. I just work right along with everyone, get along. Very low-key,” Elliott said.