In an astonishing feat that underscores the power of technology to enable people with disabilities, software engineer Hank Torres took the stage at the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference on Friday and typed a sentence without the use of his hands in just over a minute, beating the clock to win the Guinness World Record. Torres, who is a quadriplegic and does not have the use of his hands, typed his way to triumph using Swype, a gesture-based keyboard, and Tracker Pro, a head-operated mouse that follows the movement of a reflective dot on his eyeglasses and allows him to point and click to replace a normal computer mouse.
Torres used Tracker to input the word patterns on a Swype keyboard, and though it took three tries, he wowed the audience with his almost perfect rendering of a sentence about piranhas in 83.09 seconds. “Swype has opened a whole new road of communications that before was very difficult or frustrating at times,” Torres says.
Torres, a graduate software engineer from the University of Illinois, recalls first attending college and typing “with two splints with pencil erasers to depress the keys or type on a keyboard.” Today, he has received four patents, most of which were written using Swype.
Swype was developed by two assistive technology experts, Cliff Kushler and Randy Marsden. Kushler is the co-inventor of T9, a predictive text-entry solution for mobile phones, and Marsden is the President and CEO of Madentec, which created Tracker, the Microsoft onscreen keyboard, and other alternative-input products for the computer. It is available on Android phones and tablets including the new Samsung Galaxy.
Torres’ accomplishment on Friday went far beyond Guinness World Record accolades. The standing ovation he received for his success heralded a clearer sense of purpose among the ATIA crowd, which included hundreds of manufacturers of life-changing assistive technologies and devices. For this group, their mission and life’s work — to improve the lives of people with disabilities — had once been again reaffirmed and celebrated.