Beautiful Signs for a Better Planet

ADA Sign Requirements Guide

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.

What is an ADA Sign?

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.

Where are ADA Signs Required?

ADA signs are required to mark every permanent room or space in all public buildings in the United States of America.

Which Buildings Require ADA Signs?

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:

  • All 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 
    • places of lodging 
    • recreation facilities 
    • assembly areas 
    • private museums 
    • places of education
    • office buildings 
    • factories 
    • warehouses 
    • manufacturing plants 
    • public areas of apartment and condo buildings
    • other facilities whose operations affect commerce
    • private residences with a commercial area – commercial areas must meet ADA requirements

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.  

Where Should ADA Signs be Mounted?

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.

  1. Where a tactile sign is provided at a door, the sign shall be located alongside the door at the latch side. 
  2. Signs containing tactile characters shall be located so that a clear floor space of 18 inches minimum by 18 inches minimum, centered on the tactile characters, is provided beyond the arc of any door swing between the closed position and 45 degree open position. 
  3. Tactile characters on signs shall be located 48 inches  minimum above the finish floor or ground surface, measured from the baseline of the lowest tactile character and 60 inches maximum above the finish floor or ground surface, measured from the baseline of the highest tactile character.

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. 

ADA Sign Placement Requirement

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.

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What if There is Not Room to Mount an ADA Sign to the Side of the Door?

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. 

  • Where there is no wall space at the latch side of a single door or at the right side of double doors, mount sign on nearest adjacent wall.

where to hang an ADA sign without enough space

How are ADA Signs Mounted for Double Doors?

ADA sign requirements make special allowances for double doors as follows:

  • On double doors with one active door, the sign may be mounted on the inactive door. For double doors that are both active, mount sign on wall to the right door.
  • On outward swinging doors, mount sign on the side outside of the door arc swing (i.e. if the door were open all way then the wall that would still be visible is the wall to use).

ADA sign requirements for double doors

Can an ADA Sign be Mounted to the Push Side of a Door?

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:

  1. The door must swing in the push direction
  2. The door has an automatic closing device
  3. The door does not have a hold open device

can an ada sign be mounted to a push door

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ADA Sign Requirements for Mounting to the Wall or Ceiling

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:

  • When hanging a sign from the ceiling, the bottom must be at least 80” above the floor. 
  • Signs projecting from the wall must be at least 27” above the floor and only protrude 4” into the hallway. 
  • Signs many not block doors or emergency equipment. 

Direction Sign Mounting ADA Requirements

Which Signs Have ADA Regulations?

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:

    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), also known as “the person in wheelchair pictogram”

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:

  • Exits – Exit passages, including doors, stairs, routes, shall be identified with a sign that includes braille and raised characters; Pictograms are optional
  • Areas of Refuge
    • Areas of Refuge Identification – Areas of Refuge are required per building code and shall be marked with signage that includes braille, raised characters, and the ISA pictogram
      • If an illuminated Exit box is required, a lit Area of Refuge sign must also be used
  • Areas of Refuge Instructions – Areas of Refuge must also contain instructions that direct persons on actions to take during an emergency
    • Visual characters not required to include raised content or pictograms visual characters
    • Braille and pictograms are optional
  • Entrances, Elevators, Restrooms – Inaccessible entrances, elevators, and restrooms must have directional signage (with visual characters) indicating the location of the nearest accessible entrance, elevator, or restroom
    • Braille and pictograms are not required on directional signage, however, the ISA is required at the accessible entrance, elevator, or restroom if not all entrances, elevators, or restrooms are accessible

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. 

  • Symbols of Accessibility – ADA signs with pictograms for TTYs, Assistive Listening Systems, Volume Control Telephones should be used to identify and direct to these devices that assist the disabled.

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.

What are  ADA Sign Height Requirements?

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 Sign Height Requirement

What is Required on an ADA Sign?

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 Sign Requirements Chart

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What Finish and Contrast are Required on an ADA Sign?

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.

ADA Sign, Braille with High Contrast

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.

What are ADA Sign Requirements for  Braille?

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:

  1. Type – Braille shall be contracted grade 2
  2. Shape – Braille shall have a domed or rounded shape (not flat or pointed)
  3. 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
  4. Position – Braille shall be positioned below corresponding text and for multi-lined text place braille below the entire text; Note that additional elevator car control braille positioning instruction is also specified 
  5. Spacing – Separate braille by at least 3/8 inch from any other tactile characters, raised borders, or decorative elements
  6. Dimensions – There are multiple braille dimension requirements are listed and pictured in the illustration below

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.

Braille Requirements for ADA Signage

For more in-depth information on the different types of braille and the history of braille, view this article.

What are the ADA Requirements for Elevator Signs?

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.

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What are the Requirements for Raised Visual Images on ADA Signs?

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.  

ADA sign requirements for pictogram space

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.

    1. Depth – Raised characters should be at least 1/32 inch (0.8 mm) above sign base
    2. Case – Characters shall be uppercase
    3. Style – Characters shall be sans serif, and not decorative or unusual forms
    4. Proportions – Characters shall be in a font in which the width of the uppercase letter “O” is at least 55 percent minimum and at most 110 percent of the height of the uppercase “I”
    5. Height – Character height measured from the baseline of the character shall be at least  ⅝ 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 at a minimum of ½ inch (13 mm)
    6. Stroke Thickness – Stroke thickness of the uppercase letter “I” shall be no more than 15 percent of the height of the character
    7. Character SpacingCharacter spacing shall be measured between the two closest points of adjacent raised characters within a message, excluding word spaces.
    8. Line Spacing – Spacing between the baselines of separate lines of raised characters within a message shall be 135 percent minimum and 170 percent maximum of the raised character height.

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.

  1. Case – Characters shall be uppercase, lowercase or a combination of both cases
  2. Style – Characters shall be conventional in form, and not in italic, oblique, script, highly decorative, or of other unusual forms
  3. Character Proportions –  Characters shall be selected from fonts where the width of the uppercase letter “O” is at least 55 percent and at most 110 percent of the height of the uppercase letter “I”
  4. Character HeightMinimum character height shall comply with the below table.  Viewing distance shall be measured as the horizontal distance between the character and an obstruction preventing further approach towards the sign. Character height shall be based on the uppercase letter “I”.

703.5.5 TABLE FROM STANDARDS

  1. Stroke Thickness – Stroke thickness of the uppercase letter “I” shall be at least 10 percent and at most 30 percent of the height of the character.
  2. Character SpacingCharacter spacing shall be measured between the two closest points of adjacent characters, excluding word spaces. Spacing between individual characters shall be at least 10 percent and at most 35 at most percent of the character height.
  3. Line Spacing – Spacing between the baselines of separate lines of characters within a message shall be at least 135 percent and at most 170 percent maximum of the character height.

ADA sign requirements for tactile characters and font

Which ADA Signs Require Pictograms?

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.

Which ADA Signs Require the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA)?

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.

  1. In historic buildings when not all the restrooms, bathing facilities, entrances, exits, or elevators are accessible. In these situations, a wheelchair pictogram must be placed at accessible locations and a sign must be placed at each inaccessible location directing to the nearest accessible one.
  2. On signs identifying areas of refuge or rescue assistance
  3. On signs identifying accessible check-out aisles and amusement ride entries
  4. On signs identifying accessible parking spaces

The International Symbol of Accessibility used on ADA Signs

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.

When is the International Symbol of TTY Used?

The International Symbol of TTY pictogram identifies a public teletypewriter (text telephone or TTY). Via a TTY, typed messages are sent back and forth.

TTY phone

When is a Volume Control Telephone Pictogram Used?

An amplified telephone is identified via this pictogram. The hearing-impaired use this type of phone to have clearer phone conversations.

Volume Control Telephone Pictogram Used for ADA Signs

What Sign is Required to Mark Assistive Listening Systems?

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.

Assistive Listening Systems ADA Pictogram

What are the Recommended Pictograms to Include on Interior Signage?

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.

Which Pictograms are Optional for Interior Signage?

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.

What are the Most Common ADA Sign Mistakes?

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.

  1. Incorrect spacing: This includes not having the correct spacing between letters, braille, or pictograms, and any of them automatically make a sign non-ADA compliant.
  2. Insufficient contrast: As outlined above, it is important that all signs have a high contrast between the background and any image, letters, or braille to ensure that the sign is easy to read.  It may be tempting to make sign elements blend in with decor but they must be easy to read.
  3. No Braille: When the ADA specifies a tactile sign is required, braille is not optional.
  4. Incorrect Letter Size: The rule is simple, the minimum height is 5/8” and the maximum is 2”. Make sure the letters on your sign are within this range for them to be ADA compliant.
  5. Incorrect Font: In addition to stroke requirements, the only font type allowed for signs marking permanent locations is sans serif. Both Sans Serif and Serif are allowed for visual ADA signs, but visual ADA signs may not use difficult to read fonts, be italicized or otherwise altered in ways that impact legibility.
  6. No sign: If the space has a doorway or is permanent in nature it requires an ADA compliant tactile sign.  This includes exam rooms, mechanical rooms, server rooms and more.
  7. Incorrect braille dimensions: Many signs sold  online are not ADA compliant, even when advertised to be so.  In order to be sure ADA sign requirements are met, we recommend purchasing from an ADA sign expert who produces domestically.

How are ADA Sign Requirements Enforced?

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.