Teen Uses Sign Language to Help Deaf & Blind Man on Flight: The 'Best Trip I've Ever Had,' He Says
Clara Daly, 15, used sign language to help Tim Cook, who is blind and deaf, while onboard a flight from Boston to Los Angeles
A chance encounter between a teenager and a blind and deaf man on a cross-country flight last week has gone viral on social media — making the experience now one the pair will never forget.
On June 18th, 15-year-old Clara Daly and her mother, Jane Daly, 52, had just finished a trip to help Jane’s mother move into a new home, and were traveling aboard a Alaska Airlines flight from Boston to Los Angeles.
Tim Cook, 64, was also on the flight and wanted to communicate that he needed a cup of water, among other things. Blind and deaf, there was no way for Cook — who lives in Portland, Oregon — to relay his needs other than using sign language.
“Does anyone on board know American sign language?” one of the flight attendants asked passengers more than an hour into the over five hour-long journey. Clara, who had learned to sign about a year ago to help with her dyslexia, immediately reached up and pushed her call light.
“I wanted to help,” she tells PEOPLE, “because that’s what people are supposed to do.” She kneeled next to Cook’s seat at the front of the plane and signed into his hand, “How are you? Are you okay?”
From there, the pair quickly became friends.
“He told me how he became blind — that it was a gradual thing that happened over time,” Clara says, noting that Cook had been in Boston to visit his sister. “He said that he’d once worked as a traveling salesman. We both have family in Boston, so we also talked about that, and he asked me what I wanted to do in my life.”
Clara — who tells PEOPLE she hopes to one day run for political office and become a senator — says she sat with Cook several times throughout the flight.
“He just needed somebody to talk to,” Clara says.
Jane says that her daughter has always enjoyed helping others back home in Calabasas, California.
“She volunteers at the local retirement home and plans on starting a sign language class with a friend to teach seniors who are hard of hearing,” Jane tells PEOPLE. “In helping Tim, she doesn’t think she did anything special. She did what she believes any human should do.”
Alaska Airlines officials declined to comment on Clara’s good deed, other than to refer to a blog post they published about the incident. But another passenger, 56-year-old Lynette Scribner of Seaside, Oregon, was so touched by what she witnessed on the flight that she decided to write about the situation in a now-viral Facebook post.
By Wednesday, Scribner’s post had amassed over a million likes.
“I wrote about this, thinking I was just sharing a sweet story with my friends,” Scribner tells PEOPLE. “Clara was so kind and genuine — she seemed to have no qualms about signing into Tim’s hands, and even though he couldn’t see her, she looked attentively at his face with such kindness.”
“You know, you kind of expect a teenager to be engrossed in watching movies or listening to music,” she adds. “But she just stepped up and made herself available to assist Tim for the remainder of the flight.”
Now back at the Portland care center he moved into years ago after losing his sight and hearing, Cook tells PEOPLE — through a sign language interpreter — that “Clara made me very happy.”
“I was in a bad mood before Clara helped,” he says, “and she was very sweet and nice. She had very clear communication and we had a nice conversation. Best trip I’ve ever had.”
As for Clara, she is stunned that her simple act of kindness has gotten so much attention.
“Everyone’s bummed out right now seeing so many bad things happening,” she tells PEOPLE. “Maybe they just wanted to see something good.”