Back in the 90's, a group of researchers, Martin King, Cliff Kushler and Dale Grover, were devising a way to communicate for people with spinal cord injuries and no ability to interact with a keyboard. They used infrared technology to create a simple eye tracker to control a virtual keyboard with 8 keys. By looking up, down, left, right, up-left, up-right, down-left and down-right, they could select the 8 keys. Each key on the keyboard had multiple characters. Using some new disambiguation technology they developed, the user was able to type with less than one key press per letter. Their technology solution was quite successful at solving the problem.
At the same time, mobile phones were starting to be used for sharing short text messages. The multi-tap keyboards were slow and difficult to use. This band of researchers realized that this mainstream problem was the same problem they had solved for people with mobility disabilities. They were able to see that they could apply the same principles and simplify text entry on mobile phones, so they formed Tegic Communications.
T9 was so much more efficient at text entry on feature phones that most all manufacturers licensed the technology and it came to be used on over 5 billion devices. The goal was always to return the technology to the accessibility community. Over time, T9 was sold to AOL and then to Nuance. The larger companies were unsuccessful at ever finding the resources to return this technology to the accessibility market.
In the early '00s, Randy Marsden approached Cliff Kushler with another idea for helping mobility impaired people to communicate. One method often used to communicate for severe mobility impairments is head/eye tracking of where a user is looking at an on-screen keyboard. They look at the key they want, wait a prescribed time and -bing- they get that letter, look at another letter, wait and -bing- they get that letter. This a slow, tedious process, but what was necessary at the time. Randy asked Cliff if there wasn't a way to get rid of the dwell time and just watch where the head/eyes traversed.
Cliff mulled over the problem, brought in Mark Illing and 5 years later, Swype was ready for prime time. It was demo-ed at TechCrunch50 in 2008 and was soon a great commercial success. Swype was sold to Nuance in 2011.
Thanks to the foresight of the Swype founders, Continuous Path was created as a non-profit organization prior to the sale of Swype to Nuance. The goal of Continuous Path is to find mainstream technologies or develop new technologies and adapt them to solve accessibility issues. They are currently looking at opportunities to incorporate Swype and T9 functionality into products for people with disabilities.