Beautiful Signs for a Better Planet
ADA signage regulations include technical and legal language that can be cumbersome and confusing. To address this challenge, Green Dot Sign® created ADA signage requirements resources. On this page, we break federal signage requirements into easy-to-understand, plain language FAQs with free-to-download diagrams.
ADA sign requirements and the FAQs can be broken into 3 broad areas:
Federal ADA sign requirements apply to all U.S. jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions have legal requirements in addition to what’s covered here. Jurisdictional additions are typically minor. Because requirements vary, when in doubt contact your local building inspector to confirm ADA signage compliance.
If you have additional ADA or wayfinding signage questions, Green Dot Sign® offers consulting and design services. Contact us to discuss options.
For even more ADA signage content and mounting location guidance, click the icon below to download “The Complete ADA Sign Requirements Guide” PDF. Share this FREE comprehensive reference with your interior design, specification, and installation teams to ensure federal requirements are met every time you design and mount a sign!
The term “ADA sign” typically refers to facility signage marking building rooms, spaces, or features. This type of signage provides visually impaired and blind persons greater access to public buildings, and is regulated by the federal government. In 1990, the U.S. Department of Justice published the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in order to prohibit discrimination against those with disabilities. Revised regulations and the ADA signage requirements enforced today were released as part of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (SAD).
The terms “tactile sign” and “braille sign” are often used to refer to ADA signs that include raised letters and braille. In addition to tactile braille signs, the ADA and SAD define and require numerous other signs that do not need raised content. All of these are detailed in the Guide.
Generally, ADA signs are required at every doorway. More specifically, federal regulations dictate that every permanent room or space in U.S. public buildings be marked with an identifying tactile sign.
Signs are also required in other interior and exterior building locations. More guidance for where and when it is necessary to post an ADA sign is provided in our “What Signs Have ADA Regulations?” FAQ.
Because ADA signs are federally required in all public facilities, if you are a business and have employees, clients or customers, you must follow the law. ADA regulations apply to the following buildings:
Building managers, owners and tenants must meet ADA signage requirements in order to better serve their customers and avoid fines and lawsuits.
Providing office signs that follow federal regulations 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. Signage requirements keep these accessibility considerations in mind.
The size of an establishment does not provide an exemption from federal regulations. Only prisons and buildings eligible for the National Register of Historic Places do not need to comply with ADA signage requirements.
ADA signs must be mounted on the wall directly to the handle side of a 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 SAD lists three location components that apply to most tactile braille signs:
The graphic below illustrates the most common ADA sign mounting location. In our experience, this installation graphic covers 90% to 100% of sign mounting positions for most projects.
The acceptable sign hanging height of 48 inches to 60 inches provides a 12-inch range, allowing for signs of varied size to be consistently hung on the same visual line along a wall. It often works well to hang all signs on a certain wall or in an entire office at 54 inches from the floor to the sign bottom. Conversely, in facilities focused on children, signs are often hung at the lowest allowable height.
Because buildings and doorways vary, there is not always enough wall space to hang an ADA sign to the latch side of the door. Federal law provides allowances and other mounting requirements through Standards chapter §703.4.2. Where there is not enough wall space at the latch side of a single door or at the right side of double doors, mount the sign on nearest adjacent wall to the door latch. In this situation, the braille sign must be hung centered in nearest 18 inch by 18 inch space clear of the door swing arc.
ADA sign requirements also make allowances for double doors. In this building door situation, mounting considerations are as follows:
Generally no, ADA signs may not be mounted to doors. However, in exceptional cases, ADA signs may be door mounted. The most common locations where ADA signs are hung directly on doors are restrooms and doors leading into kitchens. Note that allowance for door mounting of office signs is not due to inadequate wall space. To mount a sign on a door, all three of the below requirements must be met:
When mounting any type of signage to a wall or ceiling, signs must not protrude too far into the walkway. These ADA sign requirements apply to tactile signs, directories, wayfinding sign systems, and other signage.
Detailed federal sign installation guidance is as follows:
Not all signs are subject to legal ADA signage requirements.
Per chapter §216 of the 2010 Accessible Design Standards, ADA compliant signs serve three primary purposes:
Federal ADA sign requirements apply only to public buildings’ permanent signage. Changeable and temporary signs, including menus and directories, are not required to meet national requirements. Additionally, custom signs that enhance branding, such as organization name and logo signage, are not regulated. Finally, in correctional facilities, signs that are not in public areas do not need to comply.
SAD chapter §216 specifies ADA signs are necessary in the following public building areas:
While almost all ADA requirements focus on interior signage, a few exterior signs are also covered by regulations. Bathrooms, classrooms, and other permanent public building rooms that are accessible via an outdoor entrance must be marked with an identification sign that complies with ADA sign content guidelines.
In SAD chapter §502.6, signs identifying accessible parking spaces are regulated. Handicapped parking spaces must contain the ISA and include the text “Van Accessible” if the spot is van accessible. ADA parking spaces signs must be mounted at least 60 inches high from the ground to the sign bottom. These parking sign guidelines ensure that accessible spaces are clearly 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 must always be between 48 and 60 inches off the floor, measured from the bottom of the characters. This sign location requirement holds regardless of other installation details, such as if it is mounted on a door or to the right side of a doorway. For visual continuity, we recommend installing all ADA signage in a facility at the same height.
In California, measure to the bottom of braille on a sign rather then measuring to the bottom of visual characters.
ADA sign requirements vary based on a facility 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 three of these content features. The table below provides an overview of ADA content requirement by sign type. Signage aspects are further detailed in subsequent sign content FAQs.
ADA sign requirements dictate a non-glare finish and a high contrast ratio, per SAD chapter §703.5.1.
Sign background and content—whether raised or flat visual letters—must 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 in federal guidelines, the traditional 70 point or higher light reflective value between sign content and background is recommended. The 70 LRV was reworded to “high contrast” in federal regulations in order to allow use of natural materials in sign production. However, the minimum reflective value is a good reference point to keep in mind during project design.
In darker areas of a building, it is easier to read a sign with a dark base with light content. Additionally, when hanging signage, ensure that shadows from lighting do not impact legibility. Best practice also dictates that overhead sign content should often be repeated with an eye-level sign.
Finally, braille and sign base contrast does not matter. This is because clear or colored braille meets the needs of the blind tactile readers and legal guidelines.
ADA signs identifying permanent rooms or spaces in U.S. public buildings are required to be tactile signs, meaning they must have raised letters and braille. However, 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 accessibility requirements.
Six braille requirements are described in chapter §703.3 of the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design.
Note that for California ADA signage, the distance between two dots in the same braille cell and distance between corresponding dots in adjacent braille cells must be 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.
On elevator car controls, braille shall be separated by at least 3/16 inch and located either directly below or adjacent to the corresponding raised characters or symbols. Braille that is recessed into a machined cavity or on a strip of material that is not flush with the sign face is not ADA compliant.
For more in-depth information on the history of braille and braille types, check out this blog post.
Like any other permanent structure in a U.S. public building, elevators shall be marked with legally required signage. Elevator ADA regulations and associated signage is nuanced. To ensure that all facility elevator signage is compliant review this U.S. Access Board reference Guide with comprehensive elevator accessibility information and easy-to-understand diagrams.
At a high-level, elevators need signs in the following places:
There are only four pictograms required for ADA signs. The International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA), indicating that a feature is accessible, is by far the most common required pictogram. The other three required symbols are the International Symbol of TTY, the Volume Control Telephone, and the International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss. All required pictograms are well-defined and allow for minimal variation. We recommend not altering them at all.
Most ADA signs do not require pictograms. However, best practice is to include a pictogram on safety devices and Exit and restroom signs. Design flexibility is acceptable for optional pictograms.
On ADA signs with required and optional pictograms, the SAD requires a 6-inch vertical field free of all other content.
Best practice is to mark accessible features, including bathrooms and exit routes, with the ISA. Including the ISA on an ADA sign is required in the following instances:
In New York and Connecticut, the below modified is ISA required. Additionally, in many other U.S. jurisdictions the modified ISA is acceptable. While many prefer the feel of the modified ISA, we recommend confirming ISA requirements with your local building inspector.
The below International Symbol of TTY pictogram identifies a public teletypewriter (text telephone or TTY). Via a TTY, typed messages are sent back and forth. This pictogram must be used to mark the location of a TTY.
An amplified telephone is identified via the following pictogram. Hearing-impaired persons use this type of phone to have clearer phone conversations. This pictogram must be used to mark the location of a volume control phone.
The International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss, pictured below, is used to identify or direct to an assistive listening system. An assisted listening device enables the hearing impaired to amplify sounds. This tool and associated ADA signage is often used in assembly halls.
In addition to providing accessibility for the visually impaired and blind, ADA signage is key part of emergency messaging and wayfinding. While optional, including pictograms on signs for safety devices and features, means of egress (exit paths), and restrooms is recommended. Consider this: if you were having a heart attack, would you want emergency responders to easily follow signage to exactly where you are and back down to their running ambulance? This is the type of question to ask while designing signs.
Design flexibility is acceptable for these recommended pictograms. However, on all ADA signs with pictograms there should be a 6-inch vertical field free of all other content.
Beyond the four required pictograms—ISA, TTY, Volume Control Phone and Assistive Listening System—all other pictograms are optional. For optional pictograms, reference best practices to determine if a symbol should be included on an ADA or wayfinding sign.
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:
A note on #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 four 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 four times the raised character stroke width maximum at the base of the cross chapters, and 1/8 inch (3.2 mm) minimum and four times the raised character stroke width maximum at the top of the cross chapters.
When both raised and visual characters are required by the ADA, one sign with both types of characters or two separate signs with each type of character may be posted.
ADA sign requirements for visual characters are covered in SAD chapter §703.5. Visual character requirements apply to informational and directional signage. Key visual character requirements for this ADA sign content component are similar to raised character requirements.
Additional visual character requirements are as follows:
When both raised and visual characters are required by the ADA, one sign with both types of characters or two separate signs with each type of character may be posted.
In 2021, there are many visually-appealing custom ADA sign options beyond the standard 1990s sign offering of 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 still being compliant with all ADA sign requirements.
While unique, contemporary ADA sign options are a welcome evolution, it is critical that they meet legal requirements.
While designing attractive ADA signs, ensure that they meet federal regulations that provide those with disabilities access to public spaces. Below are common ADA sign violations and the requirement that should be followed.
To be sure federal signage requirements are met, we recommend purchasing from an ADA sign expert who produces domestically.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for enforcing ADA sign requirements in public buildings and spaces. In 2021, initial DOJ fines range from $55,000 to $75,000 and subsequent fines can go up to $150,000. The Department of Justice website contains additional ADA sign requirements enforcement information.
In practice, most enforcement of ADA signage regulations falls to local building inspectors. The degree to which local building inspectors understand and enforce requirements varies; however, ADA diligence is increasing in every jurisdiction of the country. Building inspectors will generally allow an initial period of time, such as two to four weeks, to come into compliance before issuing fines for ADA sign requirements violations.
Finally, lawsuits are a common means of forcing organizations to comply with the ADA and can cause substantial financial burden.
Green Dot Sign® is the nationwide provider of sustainable signs, focusing on ADA and wayfinding signage. Our services include ADA sign requirements consulting, full sign system design, fabrication, and installation. We work closely with brands, developers, and AECO professionals to make every project a success.
Our beautiful signs are made of natural materials via a patent-pending 3D printing process. Each Green Dot Sign® reduces plastic use by about 250 grams compared to a traditional ADA sign. Our durable signs have no adhesive to fail or letters to pick off. Third-party sustainability certifications enable many of our signs to contribute to green building certification credits.
All our signs come with an industry best-in-class warranty. Over 10,000 SKUs of the most common ADA signs are ready to order on our eCommerce website and Amazon. Most of our orders are for custom wayfinding signage. Contact us with what you have in mind and we’ll be in touch within two business days.