Ellen DeGeneres Gives $25,000 to 12-Year-Old Alex Knoll to Develop Ability App


Accessing public spaces can be difficult if you have a disability. All too often, a store doesn’t have an automatic door, a restaurant has narrow aisles or a playground doesn’t have wheelchair accessible play areas. Noticing how difficult a lack of accessible options can be for people with disabilities, 12-year-old Alex Knoll decided he wanted to make a difference.

After conducting his own research, Knoll came up with the idea for Ability App — an app designed to help people with disabilities navigate public spaces. On Thursday, Knoll and his app, which is currently in development, hit a significant milestone after being featured on “The Ellen Show.”

Showing Ellen DeGeneres his prototype, Knoll explained how he imagines the app will work. On the app’s homepage, users are given a list of business types and services to choose from. After selecting an option, the app shows a list of establishments and each place’s accessibility features. Users can also search for features and services specific to their disability as well as disability-friendly employment opportunities.

ability app home page

Despite his working prototype, Knoll has had some troubling fundraising. Prior to his appearance on DeGeneres’ show, his GoFundMe page for had only made $350 of its $25,000 goal.

“I want to help you,” Ellen DeGeneres told Knoll. “We have an amazing team here because we have Heads Up app. We know what we’re doing here, so I’m going to put you together with our team to help make it the best app you can possibly make it,” she said presenting him with a check for $25,000, his fundraising goal.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 15 percent of the world’s population lives with a disability. With such a large community to serve, Knoll’s app joins the ranks of other apps and services made for people with disabilities. These apps include AccessNow — created by Maayan Ziv, who lives with muscular dystrophy — which uses crowdsourcing to collect and share accessible spots around Toronto, as well as Jason Da Silva’s AXSmap. Using his experience as a filmmaker and as a person living with multiple sclerosis, DeSilva created an app allowing users to virtually visit a space before arriving.

Video of Knoll’s segment was shared on “The Ellen Show’s” Facebook page, where it received positive comments from people interested in his app. “Thank you, Alex, for recognizing a serious need in the disabled community,” one commenter shared. “I have to call ahead everywhere I go to inquire about obstacles like steps, distance from handicap parking spots to the entrance, elevators, etc. You wouldn’t believe how many times I call and people have no idea how to answer my questions. I often just stay home out of fear and frustration. Being disabled can be very isolating.”

“Alex! You are amazing! My husband would use this APP every day,” another wrote. “He is in a wheelchair, and has obstacles every day, getting around town, and when we travel (which isn’t often, because of the challenges). THANK YOU!”

Ability App is not available yet, but once it is, the preteen says, the app will be free to download.

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