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Post Falls teen wins national heroic service activity award

| September 21, 2023 1:00 AM

Alex Knoll, 18, of Post Falls, is a winner of the 2023 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes.

The Barron Prize annually honors 25 outstanding young leaders who have made significant positive impacts on people, their communities and the environment. Fifteen top winners each receive $10,000 to support their service work or higher education.

Knoll is the creator of the Ability App, a crowdsourced web application 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 those who support accessibility. The app launched in 2020 and is currently available online at theabilityapp.com.

Knoll began this work at age 9 after noticing a man in a wheelchair struggling to open a store’s manual door. When he couldn’t find a digital resource the man could have used to research the store’s accessibility features, he decided to create one.

Knoll spent several years brainstorming and developing a prototype app and at age 12 was invited onto "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." DeGeneres presented Knoll with a $25,000 check from Shutterfly to develop his app and emails of support flooded in from around the world. When he needed more funding, Knoll toured as a keynote speaker, sharing his passion for accessibility and promoting awareness of its importance. He has presented in Switzerland, Slovakia and beyond, turning all of his earnings back into his app. His travels also allowed him to connect with accessibility advocacy groups, people with disabilities and researchers worldwide. Their insight helped fine-tune his app and their support has fueled his work.

“I’ve learned that when things are important enough to you, you should never give up,” Knoll said in a Tuesday news release. “I was told ‘no’ so many times during development of the Ability App but I kept going because I knew it could help so many people.”

The Barron Prize was founded in 2001 by author T.A. Barron and was named for his mother, Gloria Barron. Since then, the prize has honored more than 500 young people who reflect the great diversity of America. All of them demonstrate heroic qualities like courage, compassion and perseverance as they work to help their communities or protect the planet.

“Nothing is more inspiring than stories about heroic people who have truly made a difference to the world,” T.A. Barron said in the release. “And we need our heroes today more than ever. Not celebrities, but heroes — people whose character can inspire us all. That is the purpose of the Barron Prize — to shine the spotlight on these amazing young people so that their stories will inspire others.”