Beautiful Signs for a Better Planet
Determining all the ADA sign requirements inside the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be confusing whether it’s your first time looking closely at government documents or if it’s your 100th time. This ADA Sign Requirements Guide is designed to break down ADA signage related information into easy to understand downloadable diagrams and plain English. If you have any questions after reviewing this resource please consult the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design or reach out to us.
All information provided herein is for informational purposes only. Requirements detailed are based on Federal regulations. Many states, most notably California, have rules in addition to what we cover here.
The term “ADA sign” is most often used to refer to tactile signs used to mark rooms, spaces or features as required and defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Tactile signs have raised letters and braille, and often raised pictograms.
In addition to tactile braille signs, the ADA also details and requires numerous other signs, such as handicap parking signs, elevator signs and signs directing towards accessible features. Lastly, the ADA defines how far out from a wall or down from a ceiling any fixture may be placed and these guidelines also apply to general signs within a building.
While the ADA impacts every sign within a building, an “ADA sign” refers only to the tactile sign used to mark permanent rooms and spaces. “ADA sign requirements” include the details of the sign, such as size of letter and font, as well as where and when to hang a sign.
ADA signs are required to mark every permanent room or space in all public buildings in the United States of America.
All public buildings must comply with ADA sign requirements. Basically, this means that if you are in business, have employees, clients or customers, you need to follow all aspects of the ADA including sign requirements. This includes the following types of buildings:
The size of an establishment does not matter and the only exemptions include prisons and buildings eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
It is important for building managers and handymen to properly meet all ADA sign requirements in order to avoid fines or lawsuits. Hanging office signs according to federal regulations also serves those with disabilities and their caretakers. When signs are consistently positioned, it is easier for the visually impaired and blind to find, identify, and read them.
Additionally, if someone with a visual disability is confined to a wheelchair, they need to be able to reach braille signage. ADA sign requirements were designed with these goals in mind.
ADA signs are most commonly mounted on the wall directly to the handle side of the door as listed in Section §703.4 of the Standards for Accessible Design. ADA compliant signs are usually positioned at doorways because doors are the point of entry into a permanent building space or area that requires identification.
The Standards for Accessible Design have three location components that apply to most ADA signs.
The graphic below illustrates the most common ADA sign mounting position. In our experience this graphic covers between 90% and 100% of the signs for a given project.
The 12 inch range of acceptable hanging height, between 48 inches and 60 inches, allows signs of varied size to be consistently hung on the same visual line along a wall and simplifies the installation process. For instance, it often works well to hang all signs 54” from the floor to the sign bottom. Conversely, ADA signs for childrens’ restrooms and the like are often hung at the lowest allowable height.
If there is not enough room to hang an ADA sign to the side of the door, there are allowances to place signs on an adjacent surface. Because buildings and doorways vary, Standards chapter §703.4.2 includes guidance for where to mount braille signs when there is not enough space on the latch side of doors and/or at double doors.
ADA sign requirements make special allowances for double doors as follows:
Generally, no. ADA signs may not be mounted to the push side of a door. However, in exceptional cases, ADA signs may be mounted on a door whether or not there is adequate wall space. All of these three requirements must be met:
When mounting non-tactile signs to the wall or ceiling the ADA requires that they do not protrude too far into the walkway and block doors or safety equipment. Non-tactile signs tend to be directional signage. For instance, indicating where to find the lobby and restrooms or directing towards a set of room numbers.
Specific guidance is as follows:
Not all signs are subject to ADA sign requirements. Most ADA sign requirements dictate how to identify permanent rooms and locations with tactile signs. However, there are two other instances, changeable and temporary signs, to which the regulations do not apply. Federal requirements apply to public buildings’ permanent signage. Per chapter §216 of the Accessible Design Standards, ADA-compliant signs serve three primary purposes:
Changeable and temporary signs, including menus and directories, are not required to meet national requirements. Additionally, custom signs that enhance branding, such as an organization name and logo signage, are not regulated. Finally, in correctional facilities, signs that are not in public areas do not need to comply.
Chapter §216 specifically calls out that ADA signs are necessary in the following situations:
The ISA should also be used to mark accessible check-out aisles and amusement park ride access.
In California, the ISA is required at all accessible entrances (and other accessible building aspects) whether or not a facility has entrances that are not accessible.
While ADA sign requirements are focused on interiors, a few exterior signs are included. First, bathrooms, classrooms, and other permanent public building rooms that are accessible via an outdoor entrance should be marked by an identification sign that complies with ADA sign content guidelines. Exterior signs that are not located at the door to the space they serve, such as directional signs, have no requirements.
Next, per chapter §502.6, signs identifying accessible parking spaces are regulated. Handicapped parking spaces must contain the International Symbol of Accessibility, include the text “Van Accessible” if the spot is van accessible, and be mounted at least 60 inches high (from the ground to the sign bottom). These parking sign guidelines ensure that accessible spaces are clearly marked and visible from inside vehicles. Parking sign regulations are state-specific, therefore it is especially important to contact your local code inspector to confirm legal expectations when working with this exterior signage type.
The tactile characters on an ADA sign are to be between 48 and 60 inches off the floor, measured from the bottom of the characters.
ADA signs are required to have a combination of either braille, tactile text, or pictogram identifying the room, feature or space behind a given doorway. ADA sign requirements also dictate a non-glare finish and high contrast ratio between background and content.
ADA sign requirements vary based on an interior sign’s purpose, per chapter §703 of the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design. Although some ADA compliant signs include braille, raised characters, and pictograms, not all ADA-compliant signs are required to contain all of these content features. The below table provides an overview of the Design Standards Design by ADA sign type. Signage aspects are further detailed in individual sign content aspect chapters.
ADA signs requirements dictate a non-glare finish and a high contrast ratio, per chapter §703.5.1.
Furthermore, the sign background and content, whether raised or only visual, should be in contrasting colors. This means that a sign should have a light background and dark characters, or a dark background and light characters. Although contrast is no longer specifically defined, a best practice is for a 70 point or higher light reflective value between sign content and background. It has also been shown that in darker areas of building it is easier if the sign base is dark with light content of the signage in that area to have additional light. Best practices also dictate that overhead sign content should be repeated at eye level.
To further assist the visually impaired, signs should be designed so that text and background colors and textures are uniform. Additionally, when hanging signage ensure, that shadows from lighting do not impact legibility.
Clear or colored braille meets the needs of the blind and legal guidelines; contrast for braille does not matter.
All tactile ADA signs must use contracted grade 2 braille.
ADA signs identifying permanent rooms or spaces in public spacesare required to be tactile signs, meaning they must have raised letters and braille. However, facilities ADA signs that provide direction or information regarding accessible features are not required to contain braille. Overhead, temporary, menu and changeable signs also do not need braille in order to meet federal ADA sign requirements.
Braille is covered in chapter §703.3 of the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design. The following 6 points define ADA sign requirements for braille:
On elevator car controls, braille shall be separated by at least 3/16 inch and shall be located either directly below or adjacent to the corresponding raised characters or symbols.
Note that for California signage, the distance between two dots in the same braille cell and distance between corresponding dots in adjacent braille cells should be at the maximum listed in the federal Accessible Design Standards. This California specific guideline is in the 2019 Edition of the California Building Code (CBSC) Part 2 Chapter 11B.
For more in-depth information on the different types of braille and the history of braille, view this article.
Like any other permanent structure in a building, elevators must be marked with ADA compliant signage, a sign on the door jambs of the elevator showing the floor number, clear button controls within the elevator, an emergency communication system, and more depending on the circumstance.
Outside of the elevator, there should be permanent signs marking its location and wayfinding signs directing people to the nearest elevator. These signs should follow all ADA sign requirements listed in this guide to ensure full compliance.
On the inside of the elevator door jambs, there should be a sign on each floor marking what floor it is. These must also have braille indicating which floor it is and there must be a raised visual image of a star marking the ground floor. The number marking the floor must be at least 2′ tall and raised by at least 1/32″. There must be a minimum separation of 3/8″ between the floor number and the braille, and the raised borders around the sign.
On the elevator car controls, the numbers designating the floor next to each button must be between 5/8″ and 2″. There must be a minimum space of 3/16″ between each number and the corresponding braille beneath it. It is important to note that the braille on elevator car controls differed from the that on the ADA sign requirements.
Because there are a wide variety of elevator types and locations, it is important that every aspect is fully compliant with the ADA, including signage. For an entire guide to ensure that all elevators in your organization are completely ADA compliant, click here.
There are four visuals that must always be raised, the International Symbol of Accessibility, the International Symbol of TTY, the Volume Control Telephone, and the International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss, all of which have requirements that closely match those of braille. This means that most ADA signs do not necessarily have to have raised visual images.
When both raised and visual characters are required by ADA signage guidelines, one sign with both types of characters or two separate signs, one with each type of character, may be posted. In either case the pictogram must be given a 6″ field free from other content.
Raised characters are covered in chapter §703.2 of the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design. Eight key requirements for this ADA sign content component are as follows.
Regarding point number 7 on Character Spacing, where characters have rectangular cross chapters, the spacing between individual raised characters shall be 1/8 inch (3.2 mm) minimum and 4 times the raised character stroke width maximum. Where characters have other cross chapters, the spacing between individual raised characters shall be 1/16 inch (1.6 mm) minimum and 4 times the raised character stroke width maximum at the base of the cross chapters, and 1/8 inch (3.2 mm) minimum and 4 times the raised character stroke width maximum at the top of the cross chapters. Characters shall be separated from raised borders and decorative elements 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) minimum.
ADA sign requirements for visual characters are covered in Standards chapter §703.5. In addition to identification and informational signage, visual character requirements also apply to overhead signage. Key visual character requirements for this ADA sign content component are similar to raised character requirements.
703.5.5 TABLE FROM STANDARDS
Symbols of accessibility are the four required pictograms. Theses required symbols, shown below, identify and provide direction to accessible spaces and tools that serve the disabled.
Anywhere that is wheelchair accessible, including bathrooms and exit routes, should be identified with this pictogram. The wheelchair pictogram is required in the following instances.
The above ISA was designed in 1968 by Susanne Koefoed. It is copyrighted by Rehabilitation International, and may be used so long as it is not modified. Although many do not prefer this pictogram, it is required for the Standards for Accessible Design.
The International Symbol of TTY pictogram identifies a public teletypewriter (text telephone or TTY). Via a TTY, typed messages are sent back and forth.
An amplified telephone is identified via this pictogram. The hearing-impaired use this type of phone to have clearer phone conversations.
The International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss is used to identify or direct to an assistive listening system, and it is most common in assembly halls. An assisted listening device enables the hearing impaired to amplify sounds.
Pictograms are recommended for room signs, especially restrooms, because they facilitate quick identification of building spaces and guide non-English speakers. Because recommended pictograms are on identification signs, signage should also comply with ADA character and braille requirements.
Most other pictograms are optional. This means the format of signs, such as one marking a fire extinguisher or prohibiting smoking, can include only text or only a pictogram, or both text and a pictogram. Braille is not required, pictograms do not have a field height requirement, and text does not have a size or spacing guideline for these signs.
In 2020, there are many visually appealing, custom ADA sign options beyond the standard 1990 offering with a blue background and white text and pictogram. Today, top interior designers and facilities managers use signs that complement or improve organizational branding and office décor. While unique, contemporary signage options are a welcome evolution near and dear to Green Dot Signs’ heart, it is critical they meet ADA sign requirements.
To ensure that office signs look good and meet regulations providing those with disabilities access to public spaces, be aware of the most common ADA signage violations.
The Department of Justice is responsible for enforcing ADA sign requirements in public buildings and spaces, however, much of the actual enforcement falls to local buildings inspectors. Building inspectors will generally give you an initial period of time, such as 2 – 4 weeks, to come into compliance before issuing fines. Also, law suits are a common means of forcing organizations to comply.
Initial DOJ fines range from $55,000 to $75,000 and subsequent fines can go up to $150,000 as of 2020. Law suits can have a much higher financial burden. More information on the Department of Justice may help you understand enforcement. Since 2006, there have been 7 recorded cases of these violations which can be viewed here.