Labor of Love: An Interview With
Brian & Anne Knoll
For the past six years, Alex Knoll has remained dedicated to bringing the Ability App from idea to reality.
Alex’s parents, Anne and Brian, have enjoyed a unique perspective on Alex’s journey and the development of the Ability App. All kids are amazing, but not every parent needs to balance tennis lessons with appearances on Ellen. We thought it would be interesting to hear from the typically-quiet Knolls about how the Ability App became their family’s labor of love.
What was your first thought when Alex—at just 9-years old in 2014—shared his idea for Ability App?
Knolls: We were very proud of him and happy to see that he was trying to solve a big problem in the world, the lack of accessibility and inclusion. Even at a young age, he was always very aware of the world around him.… We thought the Ability App was an amazing idea and wondered why no one else had thought of it.
How have you been involved in the Ability App journey?
Knolls: We have helped guide Alex a bit here and there, but for the most part Alex has taken on the majority of the project by himself, including countless meetings with his team, conversations and interviews with people with disabilities about how Ability App can better serve them, interviews and speeches to help spread the word about Ability App and teach others about accessibility and inclusion, as well as conversations with businesses and service organizations about the things they can do to make spaces more accessible.
How did you adjust to the realities of building an app?
Knolls: When we realized the demands and costs of actual app development, we adjusted. Alex has accepted a lot of offers of support, from people volunteering to help with the app development, website, research, and more. We’re so grateful to the people who have helped Alex bring his vision to reality. And of course, the check from Ellen and Shutterfly was critical.
Alex also took up public speaking to help finance his Ability App project. As he went along, the speaking opportunities became increasingly more significant. Alex was traveling all over the world to speak. We decided to homeschool Alex so that he could have more flexibility in his schedule.
Then when Alex decided he wanted to go back to public school for 9th grade, we adjusted again. Alex has a tremendous work ethic and a kind heart, and has committed himself to helping others. So while continuing to advocate for accessibility and the Ability App, he also served on the student council, joined the tennis team, and enjoyed more time with his friends.
Last year, when Alex decided the Ability App was nearing release, he formed Coeur Technologies to help encourage investment and create a company dedicated to solving other challenges that people face around the world. So now we’re adjusting again, to a larger team, more formal structures, and the processes of securing funding.
We’re all learning constantly!
Has this become your full-time job?
Knolls: Oh no! We both still work separate full-time jobs. Ability App is work, but it’s a labor of love. We figure we’ve worked on the app in one way or another every day for the last six years.
What has kept your family motivated over that time?
Knolls: Motivation to keep going has always been easy. People from all over the world reach out to Alex with words of encouragement and excitement about the Ability App. Their stories are incredibly powerful and moving.
After Alex first appeared on Ellen Degeneres’ show, we were overwhelmed by the response – in a good way! He received thousands of social media messages and emails from people from all over the world extending kind words, well wishes, and sharing their excitement about the Ability App. They gave Alex validation that the Ability App was a tool people wanted to see come to life. Their stories motivate all of us to keep moving the Ability App forward, no matter the pace.
What has been the most challenging part of this endeavor so far?
Knolls: Our biggest challenge so far, as parents, has been balancing Alex’s time, so that he can make his vision a success while still allowing plenty of time for him to enjoy a normal childhood. Alex does a great job working to find this balance.
We’ve also used challenges during the process of creating the Ability App as positive learning experiences.
Sometimes things just don’t work out the way that you thought they would. Looking back on all of those bumps in the road, it’s pretty easy to see that all of those challenges happened for a reason. Every difficult experience is an opportunity to grow and learn.
What has been the most rewarding part of this endeavor so far?
Knolls: For us, the most rewarding thing has been watching Alex grow throughout his journey with the Ability App. His confidence has grown, he has met so many inspiring people, he’s become a great speaker…
We have witnessed Alex’s excitement about inspiring other children to go out and find a problem in the world and set out to solve that problem. Alex has received messages from children around the world thanking him for inspiring them to make our world a better place, and that experience has been incredibly rewarding for Alex and for our entire family.
And of course, making a difference for others is unquestionably rewarding. One elementary school class near our town connected with Alex after one of his speeches to tell him that they had a classmate who was blind. They had heard Alex speak about the importance of accessibility and inclusion, and it inspired them to help their classmate. They not only made the playground at their school accessible for their classmate, they also made their school fully accessible.
With the global release of the Ability App, what are your hopes for the app? For Alex?
Knolls: Our hope is that Ability App will dramatically improve the lives of people with disabilities and their families. Alex has assembled a talented team to help move Ability App forward, to develop it in all of the ways he originally envisioned and more. We see a bright future ahead for the Ability App and its users. We are excited to see what comes next!
Our hope for Alex is the same as it is for most parents. We want Alex to be happy and to continue his journey through life on a path that leads to many successes in service of his own pursuits, along with the pursuits of others.
As a family, we often talk about enjoying the journey along the path of life. It’s not about the finish line. Instead, it’s more about celebrating the small accomplishments that occur each day that lead to the finish line.
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