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16 ADA Sign Requirement FAQs

ADA SIGN REQUIREMENTS

Federal ADA sign requirements apply to everything from bathroom and restroom signs to accessible elevator signs, and room number and name signage. Because legal regulations can be confusing, we’ve compiled easy to understand ADA sign compliance FAQs.

  • FAQs 1-5 – Where ADA signs are required
  • FAQs 6-14 – ADA compliant sign design and content requirements
  • FAQs 15 & 16 – Common sign design mistakes and ADA signage regulations enforcement

Federal ADA sign requirements apply to all U.S. jurisdictions. Some state and local jurisdictions have codes and legal requirements in addition to what’s covered here. Jurisdictional additions are typically minor.  Because ADA signage requirements vary, when in doubt contact your local building inspector to confirm ADA signage compliance.

 


For all federal ADA sign requirements information in one place download our ADA Sign Requirements Guide.  This comprehensive Guide contains easy to understand diagrams and is a great resource for all members of your team that work with ADA sign design and installation.

 

55+ Page ADA Sign Guide

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WHAT IS ADA SIGNAGE?

“ADA signage” refers to signs marking building rooms, spaces or features as required by U.S. federal law.  In 1990 the Department of Justice published the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in order to prohibit discrimination against those with disabilities. ADA sign requirements enforced today were released as part of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (SAD).

The terms “braille sign” and “tactile sign” often refer to ADA signs that include raised letters and braille.  In addition to tactile braille signs, the ADA and SAD also define and require signs with flat characters.

 


This hexagon custom door sign is made of 1/2 inch aspen wood with a shallow 45 degree edge bevel, black raised letters and clear braille.

WHERE ARE ADA SIGNS REQUIRED?

Generally, ADA signs are required at every doorway in all U.S. public buildings, including businesses, apartments, offices and even home businesses with visiting clients or employees.  In addition to doorways, ADA signage is sometimes required at other interior and exterior building locations.

The size of an establishment does not provide an exemption from federal regulations. If you own or manage a small business or building and have employees, clients or customers, you must follow comply with federal ADA signage law. Only prisons and buildings eligible for the National Register of Historic Places do not need to comply with ADA sign requirements.

We sometimes hear from clients surprised to learn that ADA signs are required at more than restroom doorways.  In the past, this was often the only ADA sign requirement enforced by local inspectors, especially for small businesses.  Unfortunately, this led to a misconception in some areas of the U.S. that ADA sign codes only apply in certain scenarios.  The fact is, federal law requires tactile, raised character signs at every doorway. 

ADA sign requirements apply in the following types of buildings:

  • State, county and local government facilities
  • Public accommodations and commercial facilities, including:
    • Stores and shops
    • Restaurants and bars 
    • Sales or retail establishments
    • Service establishments 
    • Theaters 
    • Hotels and motels
    • Recreation facilities 
    • Assembly areas 
    • Private museums 
    • Places of education
    • Office buildings 
    • Factories 
    • Warehouses 
    • Manufacturing plants 
    • Public areas of apartment and condo buildings, such as hallways and lobbies
    • Other facilities whose operations affect commerce
    • Commercial areas in private residences 

WHICH SIGNS HAVE ADA REQUIREMENTS?

While not all signage is regulated by the ADA, many building signs are covered by federal regulations.

Per SAD §216, ADA compliant signs serve three primary purposes:

      1. To identify permanent interior office rooms and spaces
      2. To provide direction to or information about permanent interior building spaces
      3. To identify, direct to or inform about accessible features via the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA or person in a wheelchair pictogram) and other required accessibility symbol

 

Specific requirements for the following sign types are included in the SAD.

Exit signs – Exit passages, including doors, stairs and routes, must be identified with tactile ADA signage. Signs must include braille and raised characters.  Pictograms are optional.  While understanding which doorway should be marked “exit” is pretty easy, be sure to mark any decision point on an egress pathway, such as a corridor, with a tactile “exit route” sign.  

Area of refuge signs – Areas of refuge must be marked with tactile ADA signage. Signs must include braille, raised characters and the ISA pictogram. If an illuminated exit box is required, a lit area of refuge sign must also be used.

Area of refuge instructions – Areas of refuge must also contain signage with instructions that direct persons on actions to take during an emergency. Area of refuge instructional signage must meet ADA visual character requirements, however, raised content and pictograms are optional.

Signs for devices assisting the disabled – Signs identifying Text Telephones, Assistive Listening Systems and Volume Control Telephones must meet ADA visual character sign requirements. 

Inaccessible building elements – Inaccessible entrances, elevators and restrooms must have directional signage indicating the location of the nearest handicapped accessible entrance, elevator or restroom. Signs directing to accessible spaces must meet ADA visual character requirements. Braille and pictograms are not required in directional signage. The ISA is required at the accessible entrance, elevator or restroom if not all entrances, elevators or restrooms are accessible. In California, the ISA is required at all accessible entrances whether or not a facility has entrances which are not accessible.

Other required ADA signs – At handicapped accessible check-0ut aisles and accessible amusement park ride access points, ADA signage with the ISA is required.

Required outdoor ADA signs – While almost all ADA sign requirements focus on indoor signage, a few exterior ADA signs are also covered by regulations. If the exterior doorway is used to access bathrooms, classrooms, courtyards and other similar spaces, the doorway must be marked with tactile ADA signs.

Federal ADA sign requirements apply to U.S. public buildings’ permanent signage. Changeable and temporary signs, including menus and directories, are not required to meet regulations. Temporary signs are defined as in use for six weeks or less.  Additionally, custom signs that enhance branding, such as organization name and logo signs, are not regulated. Finally, in correctional facilities, signage not in public areas, such as prisoner unit identification signs, do not need to comply.

WHAT ARE HANDICAP PARKING SIGN REQUIREMENTS?

Signs identifying handicapped accessible parking spaces are regulated in SAD §502.6. Handicapped parking spaces must contain the ISA and include the text “Van Accessible” if the parking spot is van accessible. 

Signs must be mounted at least 60 inches above ground to the handicap parking sign bottom to ensure accessible parking space identification is clearly visible from inside vehicles.

The quantity of handicapped parking spots and associated parking signs required is regulated by local jurisdictions.  Your area building inspector or municipal development office should be able to confirm spot and sign requirements. 

WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON ADA SIGN MOUNTING HEIGHT?

Most ADA signs are hung about 54 inches above the floor and with their center 9 inches away from the door, on the door handle side of the doorway.  This location complies with ADA sign requirements and works for the vast majority of signs.

As specified in SAD §703.4.1, ADA sign height must be between 48 inches and 60 inches, measured from the floor to the baseline of the tactile characters. This 12 inch range of allowable sign hanging height lets signs of varied size to be consistently installed on the same visual line along a wall. Often, it works well to hang all ADA and wayfinding signs 54 inches from the floor to the bottom of all signs.

Additionally, SAD §703.4.2 details the two location requirements that are most common for ADA signs. When a braille sign is provided at a door, it must be mounted on the latch side of the door.  Signs with tactile characters should be centered in a clear floor space of at least 18 inches by 18 inches. Commonly, this means you should center tactile characters 9 inches from the door edge.  The clear floor spacing must be beyond the arc of the door swing between the closed position and open position.

Note that California ADA sign height regulations are 48 inches to the bottom of the braille, making the allowable mounting sign installation height range about 3/4 inch narrower.

 

ADA Sign Height & ADA Sign Location

 

ADDITIONAL ADA SIGN MOUNTING INFORMATION

To learn about ADA sign height and mounting requirements go to our ADA Sign Height & Installation Tips page.  It details ADA sign requirements for situations like where to hang signs when there is not enough wall space. 
For all federal ADA sign requirements information in one place download our 55+ page ADA Sign Requirements Guide.  This Guide contains easy to understand diagrams and is a great resource for all members of your team that work with ADA sign design and installation.

 

ADA Sign Height & Installation Tips

Braille Signage FAQs

55+ Page ADA Sign Guide

WHAT ARE ADA SIGN CONTENT & DESIGN REQUIREMENTS?

ADA sign requirements relating to content are primarily found in SAD §703. Depending on a sign’s purpose, ADA signage requirements vary. 

The table below provides an overview of ADA compliant sign content and design requirements for identification, directional and information signage.

ADA Signage Requirements by Sign Type

WHAT ARE ADA SIGN FINISH & CONTRAST REQUIREMENTS?

ADA signage requirements dictate a non-glare finish and a high contrast ratio in SAD §703.5.1.

Sign background and content, whether raised or flat, must be in contrasting colors. This means each sign should have a light background and dark content, or a dark background and light content or characters.

Although contrast is no longer numerically defined in the SAD, the historical 70% or higher light reflective value (LRV) contrast between sign content and background is an important benchmark. 70% LRV contrast was adjusted to “high contrast” to allow use of natural materials in sign production. However, this numerical LRV contrast value is a good reference point to keep in mind during ADA sign design. 

A handy point of reference is that white and light green have a roughly 70% LRV contrast.  For general design, LRV’s that are 20 – 30 percentage points separated are considered effective for the visually impaired, for instance the contrast between wall and door paint colors.

LRV contrast works best when comparing solid colors on the same substrate, for instance, two colors on the same piece of paper.  However, comparing LRV’s across disparate materials is not effective.  For instance, comparing LRV of brushed bronze or natural wood is difficult because the materials have texture and multiple colors within them.

ADA sign requirements do not extend to braille color, therefore, any color or clear may be used. 

 

OTHER CONTRAST CONSIDERATIONS

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 shadows from lighting do not impact legibility. A best practice is for overhead directional sign content to be repeated with an eye-level sign at the destination. 

 


These custom room number ADA signs are made of walnut wood and brushed bronze.

WHAT ARE BRAILLE REQUIREMENTS FOR ADA SIGNS?

ADA braille requirements include braille shape, size, location and spacing relative to each braille ball to insure braille can be read by the widest possible audience. ADA signs identifying permanent rooms or spaces in U.S. public buildings are required to be tactile signs, including raised letters and braille. However, signs directing to accessible features are not required to contain braille, though in most cases ADA visual character requirements apply.

Braille requirements are in SAD §703.3.

  • Shape – Braille shall have a domed or rounded shape, not flat or pointed.
  • Type – Braille shall be grade 2.
  • Capitalization – Uppercase braille letters shall only be used before the first word of sentences, proper nouns and names, individual letters of the alphabet, initials, and acronyms.
  • Position – Braille shall be positioned below corresponding text; for for multiline text place braille below the entire text.
  • Spacing – Separate braille by at least 3/8 inch from any other tactile characters, raised borders or decorative elements.
  • Dimensions – Braille dimension requirements are detailed in the illustration below.

Diagram of ADA Sign Braille Requirements


Braille that’s recessed into a cavity or on a strip of material attached to the sign face is not compliant with ADA sign requirements.

Note that in California Title 24 affects braille.  In California, 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 Standards. This California specific guideline is in the 2019 Edition of the California Building Code (CBSC) Part 2 Chapter 11B.  Most companies specializing in ADA signs, including Green Dot Sign®, manufacture all signs to the California specification to insure all signs meet ADA sign requirements throughout the country. 

WHAT ARE ADA SIGN REQUIREMENTS FOR ELEVATORS?

Elevators have specific ADA sign requirements.  To ensure your building’s elevator signage is compliant review this U.S. Access Board Reference Guide.

Elevator identification and wayfinding – An ADA compliant tactile sign must identity elevators. If an elevator is not handicapped accessible, ADA directional signage is needed to direct to the nearest accessible elevator.

Elevator door jams – Inside elevator door jambs, a sign must mark the floor number. Door jams must also have braille indicating the floor level and a raised visual image of a star marking the ground floor.  Braille for the start shall read “Main”. The number marking the floor must be at least 2 inches tall and raised by at least 1/32 inch. A minimum separation of 3/8 inch between the floor number and braille, and any other raised content such as borders is required.

Elevator control buttons – Elevator control buttons, including buttons for floor selection and the emergency communication system, must be identified. Next to elevator car control buttons, numbers must be between 5/8 inch and 2 inches. In addition to standard numbers, there must be corresponding braille. The ADA requires a minimum space of 3/16 inch between elevator car controls numbers and braille.  In elevators car controls braille may be positioned below or adjacent to tactile characters.

 


This elevator sign is part of an ADA and wayfinding signage system created for an assisted living facility in Iowa. In practice, elevator manufacturers produce elevator controls to meet ADA signage requirements and sign companies make ADA compliant signs to identify and direct to elevators.  

ASSESS compliance > DESIGN thoughtfully > MANUFACTURE sustainably > INSTALL skillfully

Green Dot Sign® is based in Saint Paul, Minnesota and partners with brands, AECO project teams and sign companies across the U.S.  Signage experts since 2009 and eco-friendly sign specialists since 2019, we offer quick ship door signs and fully custom signage to provide a sustainable signage solution for every building.

From ADA signage needs evaluation to sign design, fabrication, project management or installation Green Dot Sign® handles any part or all of the signage needs for your next building project.  Message us today for a no obligation sign consultation.  Your time is valuable, so count on an open and direct conversation.

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WHAT ARE PICTOGRAM REQUIREMENTS FOR ADA SIGNS?

Most ADA signs do not require pictograms. However, best practice is to include pictograms on safety devices, means of egress and restroom signs. In addition to providing accessibility for the visually impaired and blind, selective pictogram use is a key part of emergency messaging and general wayfinding.  

Design flexibility is acceptable for optional pictograms.

On ADA signs with pictograms, the SAD requires a 6 inch vertical field free of all other content.  The sign base itself must also extend for the full 6 inch field. 

diagram showing pictogram requirements for ADA signs

WHICH ADA SIGNS REQUIRE PICTOGRAMS?

There are four pictograms required for ADA signs. Required pictograms are the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA or person in a wheelchair pictogram), International Symbol of a public teletypewriter (text telephone or TTY/TTD), the Volume Control Telephone and the International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss. All required pictograms are well defined with minimal allowed variation. 

 

 

Standard ISA, international symbol of accessibility
Traditional ISA
Modified ISA, international symbol of accessibility
Modified ISA
TTY Pictogram, teletype writer
TTY
Volume Control Phone Pictogram
Voice Control Telephone
Assistive listening system Pictogram
Access for Hearing Loss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

International symbol of accessibility (ISA) – The ISA indicates a feature is accessible and is the most common pictogram.  Best practice is to mark accessible features, including bathrooms and exit routes, with the ISA when they are accessible. 

In New York and Connecticut, the modified ISA is required. Additionally, in many other U.S. jurisdictions the modified ISA is acceptable. While many prefer the look of the modified ISA, we recommend confirming ISA requirements with your local building inspector.

ADA sign requirements mandate ISA use in following instances:

  1. When not all restrooms, bathing facilities, entrances, exits or elevators are accessible, signs with the ISA must be placed at accessible features and signs must be placed at each inaccessible feature, directing to the nearest accessible one
  2. On signs identifying areas of refuge or rescue assistance
  3. On signs identifying accessible checkout aisles and amusement ride entries
  4. On signs identifying accessible parking spaces

International symbol of text telephone (TTY or TTD) – The text telephone pictogram identifies a public text telephone of teletypewriter.  Via a TTY or TTD, typed messages are sent back and forth. This pictogram must be used to mark the location of a TTY or TTD.

Voice control telephone – An amplified telephone is identified via a telephone. Hearing impaired people use this type of phone for clearer phone conversations. This pictogram must be used to mark the location of a volume control phone.

International symbol of access for hearing loss – The International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss is used to identify or direct to an assistive listening system. An assisted listening device enables the hearing impaired to amplify sounds. This tool is often used in assembly halls and museums.

WHAT ARE RAISED CHARACTER ADA SIGN REQUIREMENTS?

Raised character ADA sign requirements are defined in SAD §703.2.

  • Depth – Raised characters must be at least 1/32 inch (0.8 mm) above sign base.
  • Case – Characters shall be uppercase.
  • Style – Characters shall be sans serif, and not of decorative or unusual forms.
  • Proportions – Characters shall be in a font in which the width of the uppercase letter “O” is at least 55% and at most 110% of the height of the uppercase “I”.
  • Height – Character height measured from the baseline of the characters shall be at least 5/8 inch (16 mm) and at most 2 inches based on the height of the uppercase letter “I”. If a sign has raised and visual characters with the same information, raised character height can be a minimum of 1/2 inch (13 mm).
  • Thickness – Stroke thickness of the uppercase letter “I” shall be no more than 15% of the height of the character.
  • Character spacingCharacter spacing is measured between the two closest points of adjacent raised characters within a message, excluding word spaces; where characters have rectangular cross chapters, the spacing between individual raised characters shall be 1/8 inch (3.2 mm) minimum and four times 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; characters shall be separated from raised borders and decorative elements 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) minimum.
  • Line spacing – Spacing between the baselines of separate lines of raised characters within a message shall be 135% minimum and 170% maximum of the raised character height.

When both raised and visual characters are required by the ADA, one sign with both types of characters or two separate signs, one with tactile and one with visual, may be posted.

Raised Character ADA Sign Requirements Diagram

WHAT ARE VISUAL CHARACTER ADA SIGN REQUIREMENTS?

ADA sign requirements for visual characters are covered in SAD §703.5. Visual character requirements apply to informational and directional signage and characters do need not be tactile or raised. 

  • Case – Characters shall be uppercase, lowercase or a combination of both cases.
  • Style – Characters shall be conventional in form, and not in italic, oblique, script, highly decorative or of other unusual forms.
  • Character proportions –  Characters shall be selected from fonts where the width of the uppercase letter “O” is at least 55% and at most 110% of the height of the uppercase letter “I”.
  • Stroke thickness – Stroke thickness of the uppercase letter “I” shall be at least 10% and at most 30% of its’ height.
  • Character spacing – Character spacing is measured between the two closest points of adjacent characters, excluding word spaces. Spacing between individual characters must be at least 10% and at most 35% of the character height.
  • Line spacing – Spacing between the baselines of separate lines of characters within a message shall be at least 135% and at most 170% maximum of character height.

 

When both raised and visual characters are required by the ADA, one sign with both types of characters or two separate signs, one with each type of character, may be posted.

 

Visual Character Font ADA Sign Requirements

ARE THERE VISUAL CHARACTER HEIGHT REQUIREMENTS?

Yes, to ensure that ADA signs are legible the SAD includes character height requirements.  Minimum character heights start at 5/8″ and must comply with the table below. Note that viewing distance is the distance between a sign and an obstruction (such as turning hallway), and character height is based on the uppercase letter “I”.

 

Visual Character Height ADA Sign Requirements

 

 

DETAILED BRAILLE SIGN INFORMATION

To learn about ADA braille signs go to our ADA Braille Sign FAQs page.  It provides information about braille types and the history of braille.
For all federal ADA sign requirements information in one place download our 55+ page ADA Sign Requirements Guide.  This Guide contains easy to understand diagrams and is a great resource for all members of your team that work with ADA sign design and installation.

 

Braille Signage FAQs

ADA Sign Height & Installation Tips

55+ Page ADA Sign Guide

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON ADA SIGNAGE MISTAKES?

Last year more than half of the ADA sign packages submitted to Green Dot Sign® for quote did not comply with ADA signage requirements. To ensure ADA compliance, we recommend purchasing signs from U.S. based ADA signage experts and contacting them early in your sign design process.

The most common ADA sign requirements violation is missing signs. Remember that in U.S. public buildings signs must be at every doorway plus some other locations.   Other frequent ADA sign design mistakes include:

Insufficient contrast – Provide high contrast between the sign background and pictograms or letters.

No braille – When the ADA requires a tactile sign, braille is not optional.  Additionally, federal signage requirements are for braille to be positioned directly below corresponding sign text.

Incorrect braille dimensions – Some ADA signs sold online do not have Grade 2 braille.

Incorrect letter size – The minimum letter height is 5/8 inch and the maximum letter height is 2 inches.

Incorrect font – The only font type allowed is sans serif, and letters may not be bold.

Incorrect spacing – Keep a 3/8 inch space between sign content components, including letters, braille, pictograms and the sign edge.

 

HOW ARE ADA SIGN REQUIREMENTS ENFORCED?


ADA Sign HeightThe U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for enforcing ADA sign requirements. The DOJ may file lawsuits in federal court to enforce ADA signage requirements. Courts may order compensatory damages and back pay to remedy discrimination if the Department prevails. Under Title III, the DOJ may also obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violation. 

Under general rules governing lawsuits brought by the federal U.S. government, the DOJ may not sue a party unless negotiations to settle the dispute have failed. Through settlement agreements and lawsuits, greater access for individuals with disabilities has been achieved in hundreds of cases.

Individuals harmed by non-compliance may also sue the offending party.  These civil lawsuits often result in seven figure payments.

In practice, most ADA sign requirement enforcement falls to local building inspectors. The degree to which local building inspectors understand and enforce requirements varies.  However, ADA signage requirements enforcement is increasing all across the U.S. Building inspectors often allow an initial period of time, such as two to six weeks, for a public building or space to come into compliance before issuing fines for ADA sign requirement violations.

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