Today, the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes announced its 25 winners. These prizes are given to inspiring, public-spirited young people from across the U.S. and Canada who have made a significant positive difference to people and the environment. Winners must be between the ages of eight and 18. Every year, the top 15 winners receive $10,000 to support their service work or higher education.
This year, one of the winners is Alexander Knoll. He created the Ability App, a crowdsourced web app that serves people with disabilities by providing a road map of accessible public spaces and businesses. The app allows users to search mobility, vision, hearing, and cognitive accessibility features at hotels, restaurants, and businesses around the world. It includes ratings, comments and photos uploaded by anyone interested in supporting the app. Launched online in 2020, the app will be available in both Google and Apple app stores in late 2023.
Hospitality Technology sat down with Knoll to learn more about his app and how it can help benefit the hospitality industry at large.
Where did the idea for this app come from?
It all started when I saw a man in a wheelchair struggling to open a manual door at a retail store. I wondered if there was an app that he could have used to find other businesses in the area that would have allowed him easier access, including access with automatic doors. At the time (circa 2014-2015), there were no resources that fully reflected that idea.
So, that night, I went home and thought up the Ability App. I entered my idea into a student invention competition called Invent Idaho. I won that competition and the Ability App idea gained traction. I was able to develop an app prototype with the help of some kind friends I met in the tech industry from Chaotic Moon, based out of Austin, Texas (Ben Lamm, Matthew Murray and Marc Boudria). I was able to present the prototype on the Ellen DeGeneres show where she presented me with a $25,000 check from Shutterfly to start developing Ability App.
But building out an app can be very expensive. So, I had to think of creative ways to raise more funds to pay developers to finish developing the app. One of the ways that I was able to raise funds was by becoming a public speaker, spreading the word about the importance of accessibility and inclusion and donating all of my speaking funds to the development of the Ability App.
A wonderful engineer named Luke Mizuhashi reached out to me after seeing me on Ellen, and he helped me start to develop the Ability App. I’ve had a lot of help along the way from a lot of kind people.
The Ability App launched online in the spring of 2020.
What are some of the obstacles you faced in creating it?
Throughout the 8-plus year process of developing Ability App, receiving the capital necessary to develop the app became a challenge. For many mobile application companies, it can take tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for costs including employing developers and establishing hosting. I have self-funded most of the development and hosting of the Ability App over the last few years by donating my public speaking fees and working additional jobs to cover the costs. I hope that Ability App can be self-sustaining someday.
What were some of your biggest triumphs?
The biggest triumph was being able to launch the Ability App web application in the spring of 2020. It felt great to get Ability App out into the world after years and years of hard work conducting research, designing, and raising funds to create the web application of Ability App that can be found online today.