It was by total coincidence that Clara Daly and Tim Cook ended up on the same flight.
Tim Cook is blind and deaf. After visiting his sister in Boston, he was returning home alone to Portland. Clara Daly and her mom were on the same flight after their original trip back to Los Angeles had been canceled.
While the airline staff reportedly did their best, they were unable to communicate with Cook, and they reached out to other passengers for help, asking if anyone onboard knew American Sign Language (ASL). Daly had recently been studying ASL, and she gladly stepped in.
It was unclear whether Cook had made accessibility requests with the airline or not, but regardless, flying while disabled presents a number of challenges — and the burden is often left on the person with the disability. The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 attempted to address many accessibility issues, but there continue to be stories where airlines fail in their duty.
Daly, however, immediately put her ASL skills to work communicating with Cook about his needs on the flight.
Pressing her hand against Cook’s, she was able to sign out words one letter at a time. Their communication began with him simply asking for a glass of water. But she returned several times throughout the flight and spent the last 30 minutes keeping him company before they landed. In a follow-up with Cook, the airline said he made it safely back home after meeting a service provider in Portland.
And in a video posted by Portland’s KGW8, Cook said of his experience with Daly, “I was very moved and happy for you to come talk with me. … Talking with you was the best part of my trip.”
“I think ASL is a beautiful language that is not only for deaf people but is a language everyone should get to know,” Daly says. “We are all part of the same world and it is our duty to make it a place we all want to live in.”
Her act of kindness went viral and she’s using it as a teaching moment.
A fellow passenger on their flight took a picture of Daly signing to Cook and posted it to her Facebook page. It went viral, with more than 1 million people reacting and more than 650,000 people sharing the story.
About the viral nature of her story, Daly says, “All I can hope people can get from this is an inspiration do some good themselves.”
These small acts of kindness can have a profound impact — we all need to remember that.
There are things each of us can do every day to help others, whether it’s offering a service or supporting your favorite disability advocacy group — particularly when gaps in accessibility persist. A seemingly small act might be a great and welcome relief to someone else. That’s something people forget too often.
“I think people need to help people as much as we can,” Daly said.
Daly may be just 15, but hers is the kind of wisdom the world needs right now. And if the response to her act is any indication, it’s one people are really grateful to see.