A Blind and Deaf Passenger Couldn’t Communicate with the Flight Attendants—Then a 15-Year-Old Girl Stepped Up

When she heard, “Does anyone on board know American Sign Language?” over the loudspeaker, she knew she needed to help.

Girl uses sign language to help a stranger on a planeCourtesy Alaska Airlines
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is cool,’” Clara says. “I hope I don’t spell anything wrong.”

Clara Daly was seated on an Alaska Airlines flight en route from Boston to Los Angeles when a flight attendant asked an urgent question over the loudspeaker: “Does anyone on board know American Sign Language?”

Clara, 15 at the time, pressed the call button. The flight attendant came by and explained the situation. “We have a passenger on the plane who’s blind and deaf,” she said. The passenger seemed to want something, but he was traveling alone and the flight attendants couldn’t understand what he needed, according to PEOPLE magazine. Make sure that you never say these things to a deaf person.

Clara had been studying ASL for the past year to help with her dyslexia and knew she’d be able to finger spell into the man’s palm. So she unbuckled her seat belt, walked toward the front of the plane, and knelt by the aisle seat of Tim Cook, then 64. Gently taking his hand, she signed, “How are you? Are you OK?” Cook asked for some water.

When it arrived, Clara returned to her seat. She came by again a bit later because he wanted to know the time. On her third visit, she stopped and stayed awhile.

“He didn’t need anything. He was lonely and wanted to talk,” Clara says.

So for the next hour, that’s what they did. She talked about her family and her plans for the future (she wants to be a politician). Cook told Clara how he had gradually become blind over time and shared stories of his days as a traveling salesman. Even though he couldn’t see her, she “looked attentively at his face with such kindness,” a passenger reported.

“Clara was amazing,” a flight attendant told Alaska Airlines in a blog interview. “You could tell Tim was very excited to have someone he could speak to, and she was such an angel.”

Cook’s reaction: “Best trip I’ve ever had.”

Looking for ways to give back yourself? Start with these 10 random acts of kindness that can change someone’s life right now.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Andy Simmons
Andy Simmons is a features editor at Reader's Digest.