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 this ADA Sign Requirements Guide. Our Guide breaks federal signage requirements into easy to understand, plain language FAQs with free to download diagrams.
ADA sign requirements, and the FAQs in this Guide, can be broken into several components:
The federal ADA sign requirements detailed in this Guide 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.
The term “ADA sign” typically refers to facilities signage used to mark specific 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 enforceable today were released as part of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design (SAD).
The terms “tactile sign” and “braille sign” are sometimes 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 to contain raised content.
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 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 required in public facilities if you are in business, have employees, clients or customers you must follow the law. ADA regulations are applicable in the following building types:
Building managers and owners should meet ADA signage requirements in order to better serve their customers and avoid fines and lawsuits.
Providing office signs according to 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 were designed with 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 are to 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. This range allows signs of varied size to be consistently hung on the same visual line along a wall and simplifies the installation process. 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 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. Rather, in order 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 the ADA requires that signs do 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 are focused 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 should 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 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 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 that recommend installing all ADA signage in a facility at the same height.
In California, rather then measuring to the bottom of characters on a sign measure to the bottom of braille.
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 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.
Furthermore, the 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, in the past a 70 point or higher light reflective value between sign content and background was required. 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 if the base is dark with light content. Additionally, when hanging signage ensure that shadows from lighting do not impact legibility. Best practices also dictate 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 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. It contains 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 ADA signs must always contain. 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 device, 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, more recently designed, modified is ISA required. Additionally, in many other U.S. jurisdictions the modified, active 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 most common 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 the 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:
Regarding requirement 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 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. Characters shall be separated from raised borders and decorative elements 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) minimum.
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 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 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 good looking 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 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, it 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 a substantial financial burden.
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