When the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990, most of its initial focus seemed to be on mobility -- wider parking spaces situated close to facilities with ramps and elevators for easy and convenient access to buildings.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities for employment, government programs and services, private-sector goods and services and access to public and commercial facilities. To level the playing field, people need the proper tools -- Braille machines, written notes instead of just verbal instructions, special telephone lines, etc.

A U.S. Census Bureau survey in 1994 reported that approximately 54 million Americans have a physical or mental disability, and nearly half of those people are receiving disability assistance. Technology companies have paid attention to those figures and are servicing that large consumer base while helping the government save billions in assistance dollars.

The result are technologies that help those who suffer from blindness, dyslexia, paralysis and other disabilities. Interactive tools -- such as speech-recognition software and brain-actuated computer interfaces -- allow people to perform word processing and computer programming, and use fax machines, e-mail, copy machines and more. A number of such products are presented here.

TALKING WEB

pwWebSpeak is an Internet browser for the visually impaired that converts Web page information into synthesized speech.

The software enables Internet navigation by reading text and scanning for hyperlinks.

When integrated with RealAudio 3.0 from

Progressive Networks, pwWebSpeak allows people to hear radio shows, news broadcasts, live concerts and sporting events in broadcast-quality sound over the Internet using a 28.8 kbps modem and near CD-quality sound over ISDN or LAN connections.

pwWebSpeak runs on Windows 3.1, Windows 3.11 and Windows 95 and requires 5MB of hard-disk space and 8MB of RAM.

For additional information, contact The Productivity Works, 7 Belmont Circle, Trenton, NJ 08618. Call 609/984-8044.

HOT JAVA

Java Accessibility API, developed by Sun Microsystems, enables Java developers to write applications specifically designed for people with disabilities.

Java Accessibility API lets screen readers, magnifiers, speech recognition and Braille terminals access Java applications on the Web.

Java Accessibility applications are not dependent on machines that require assistive technologies support and can run on any Java-enabled machine with or without assistive technologies.

For additional information, contact Sun Microsystems.

SPEAK IT

ViaVoice Gold from IBM is a speech-recognition software for Windows 95 and Windows NT.

By talking naturally, users can format text, surf the Web, dictate documents and e-mail, and create customized commands to quickly insert frequently used sentences, paragraphs, addresses and documents with perfect spelling.

The software requires Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0; an Intel Pentium 150MHz processor with MMX or equivalent; 32MB of RAM for Windows 95 and 48MB of RAM for Windows NT 4.0; 125MB of hard disk space; and a Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 or Mwave audio system or their respective equivalents.

The system supports Microsoft Word 97, Microsoft Office 95, Microsoft Word 7.0, Power Point, Excel, Access 7.0, Lotus, MS works 4.0 and more.

The English version costs $99. ViaVoice Gold will be available in French, German, Spanish, Italian and UK English this year.

For additional information, contact IBM.

IT'S ALL IN THE MIND

CyberLink is a brain-actuated computer interface that allows users to move and click a cursor to select menus, operate a word processor, surf the Internet, play interactive video games, create computer-aided music, and activate external devices. The system was originally developed to help jet pilots manage the overwhelming array of manual switches in the cockpit.

A headband with three sensors detects electrical signals on the forehead resulting from facial muscle, eye and brain activity. The headband connects to an interface box that amplifies and digitizes the forehead signals and sends them to PC.