Deaf interpreter finds herself in the right place at the right time
by Kara Hansen
Special to The Leaven
TONGANOXIE — Helping people communicate is par for the course in Nicole Waitley’s line of work.
But occasionally, the Sacred Heart, Tonganoxie, parishioner has found that actions speak louder than words.
January 11 was such a day.
The snow was falling heavily when Waitley left her job as a sign language interpreter in Lee’s Summit, Mo., to return home.
“Usually, I can leave a little before five, but that day I couldn’t get everything done before I left work, so I was late. And then I stopped to put gas in my car before going to pick up my daughters,” said Waitley.
While driving down Kansas Highway 7, Waitley noticed a driver had veered off the road.
“I could see it was a person who had spun in a full circle off into a ditch, and they were now standing outside in the cold,” she said.
Waitley was not in the habit of stopping to help drivers along the side of the road, but she said she felt a pull to do just that when she saw the person in the ditch.
“I never stop because I can’t help tow someone out, so in that situation I would usually call the police and keep going,” said Waitley. “But I couldn’t shake the feeling I should stop this time.”
“I tried to talk myself out of it,” she continued. “I thought, ‘It’s cold out. I could just call the police. It’s not safe for me to get out and go check on this person.’”
Ultimately, all the logic in the world could not keep Waitley from pulling over to check on the stranded driver.
“Once I saw him standing there, I had to stop,” she said.
Not wanting to walk down into the deep snow, Waitley attempted to get the driver’s attention from the top of the small hill.
“I yelled out, ‘Are you OK?’ and asked if he was hurt. But, at first, I couldn’t even get his attention,” said Waitley. “Once he saw me, he didn’t respond, but pointed to his ears.”
Waitley signed to the man, asking him if he was deaf.
“He looked at me, shocked,” said Waitley. “And then [he] excitedly started signing back. I asked him if he had called or texted anyone for help.”
The stranded motorist, Richard Edwards, was indeed deaf. He had left his cell phone on his desk at his nearby workplace, he told Waitley in sign language. Without a phone to contact anyone — and with the likely reality that few people would stop to help him, much less be able to communicate in sign language — Edwards had expected a long, cold wait for any assistance.
Waitley said that even if the police or a tow company responded to the scene, it would typically take another hour or two to get an interpreter there to facilitate communication.
“I called into his work station for him and then called police and a tow truck,” said Waitley. “Then I contacted my babysitter to see if my girls could stay with her an extra hour, so I could interpret for Richard.”
Waitley invited Edwards back to the warmth of her car, while they waited for assistance to arrive.
“He kept signing to me, ‘I can’t believe you’re a deaf interpreter!,’” said Waitley.
When a tow truck and a police officer arrived, Waitley interpreted for Edwards to make the process as smooth and quick as possible.
While the most obvious beneficiary of the turn of events was Edwards, Waitley walked away from the scene with the quiet satisfaction of a good deed done well.
“If you’re doing a good job as interpreter, it should be almost as if you’re invisible, because it’s not about you,” she said. “You’re there to help other people communicate.
“But it can get discouraging sometimes, because it’s almost like you’re a part of the deaf community, but you aren’t.
“This was a great opportunity to take a skill I have been working on and use it in a different way.”
As she finished up and prepared to leave, one of the responding officers walked Waitley back to her car — and put a different spin on her good deed.
“He told me not many people stop anymore to help someone,” said Waitley.
But that wasn’t all.
“He said,” she added, “he wanted to thank me for letting him experience a God moment, too.”