SANDPOINT — Alex Knoll was 9 years old when he saw a man in a wheelchair struggling to enter a store, since it had a manual, rather than an automatic, door.
"I wondered if there was a resource he could have used to find which stores around his area had automatic doors so he could actually access the business," Knoll said. "I went home and I did some research, and I could not find anything like Ability App, so I started this process."
Now 13 years old, the Post Falls youth has spent the past few years developing the Ability App to assist those with disabilities navigate public spaces.
The free app will provide the user with disability-friendly features at different businesses, allowing people with different disabilities to find out what businesses have to offer and how it meets their individual needs, Knoll said. They will also be able to locate services such as in-home care and grocery delivery. Eventually, Knoll said, he hopes to add employment to the app, which people with disabilities could use to find a job.
Knoll and his app made the big debut when he appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" last year.
"That was a dream come true — an absolute dream come true," he said. "She has been a hero of mine for a very long time, since I was very little ... It was breathtaking to be there."
After explaining the app and showing off his prototype, Knoll told DeGeneres that he had set up a GoFundMe account to develop the app, which had raised about $300 of his $25,000 goal. Degeneres proceeded to write out a large check — and not just large in amount; it looked to be about five-feet wide on the video — for $25,000.
The young inventor said he now has a team in place who are helping him fully develop the fully and he is learning code.
"I also have Ability Ambassadors," Knoll said, adding there are more than 600 around the world. "It's been amazing. They are helping populate the data for the app. So I have them in place and we are about ready to launch the Ambassador App, so they can enter the data that they have found at the different businesses."
Anyone can sign up to be an Ability Ambassador, Knoll said, through his website at abilityapp.org.
The show was only one of many public appearances Knoll will be making over the years. Previously a student at Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy, the seventh-grader said he recently started home-schooling.
"It's wonderful," he said. "We kind of had to make the move to go around and attend some of the events that I will be going to."
One of those upcoming events is the Swiss Economic Forum in Lucerne, Switzerland, where Knoll will be one of the keynote speakers. Knoll said he is really excited and home-school will allow him that opportunity in March, as well as other opportunities in the future.
First, however, he will be travelling to Sandpoint next week to speak at the Inventors Association of Idaho meeting, which is free and open to the public.
Along with interested inventors, Knoll said he would like to invite local youth to attend the event, as well as local business owners.
"I will be talking about my app and what businesses can do to make their businesses more accessible, so I would like to invite everyone in the community," he said.
Knoll will speak at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7., during the IoAI monthly meeting held in the second-floor auditorium of the Columbia Bank building, 414 Church St.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.