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ADA Sign Requirements Guide

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 components:

  • If signs are required
  • Where signs should be mounted
  • What signs must and cannot contain

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!

click to download the complete ADA sign requirements guide

What is an ADA Sign?

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 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.

order ADA signs online

 

Where are ADA Signs Required?

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.

Which Buildings Require ADA Signs?

Because ADA signs are federally required in public facilities if you are a business and have employees, clients or customers, you must follow the law. ADA regulations are applicable in the following 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 
    • 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
    • Commercial areas in private residences 

Building managers and owners should 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.

Where Should ADA Signs be Mounted?

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:

  1. When a sign is provided at a door, it 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 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
    • In California, state requirements dictate that the sign height measurement is to the bottom of the braille rather than the letter baseline per the federal ADA

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. 

Diagram showing the most common location required to hang ADA signs

 

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.

custom ADA sign shop

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

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.

 

diagram showing ada sign hanging requirements if there is not enough room on normal wall

What are ADA Sign Requirements for Double Doors?

ADA sign requirements also make allowances for double doors. In this building door situation, mounting considerations are as follows:

  • If one door is inactive, the sign may be centered on the inactive door
  • If both doors are active, mount the sign on wall to the side of the right door
  • On outward swinging doors, mount the sign outside of the door arc swing

diagram showing how ADA signs may be hung for double doors

Can an ADA Sign be Mounted on a Door?

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:

  1. The door must swing in the push direction
  2. The door must have an automatic closing device, either spring or electric powered
  3. The door must not have a hold open device, including kick down or plunger door stops

 

shop ada restroom signs

ADA Sign Requirements for Mounting to the Wall or Ceiling

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:

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

diagram showing ADA sign installation requirements for hanging and wall mount signs.

Which Signs Have ADA Regulations?

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:

    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) and other required accessibility symbols

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:

  • Exits – Exit passages, including doors, stairs and routes, shall be identified with a sign
    • Signs must include braille and raised characters
    • Pictograms are optional on Exit signs
  • Areas of Refuge
    • Areas of Refuge Identification – Areas of Refuge are required per building code and shall be marked with signage
      • This type of sign should 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
    • Areas of Refuge Instructions – Areas of Refuge must also contain signage with instructions that direct persons on actions to take during an emergency
      • Signage visual characters not required to include raised content 
      • Pictograms are optional on this type of ADA sign
  • Inaccessible Entrances, Elevators and Restrooms – Inaccessible entrances, elevators and restrooms must have directional signage indicating the location of the nearest accessible entrance, elevator, or restroom
    • Signs must include visual characters
    • Braille and pictograms are not required on 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 (and other accessible building aspects) whether or not a facility has entrances that are not accessible
  • Accessible Check-0ut Aisles and Amusement Park Ride Access Points – These accessible spaces must also be marked with an ADA sign that includes an ISA
  • Devices that Assist the Disabled – ADA signs for TTYs, Assistive Listening Systems and Volume Control Telephones should be used to identify and direct to these devices that assist the disabled
    • Signs must include pictograms, which are detailed in the “Which ADA Signs Require the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA)?” FAQ

ADA building signs

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.

What are  ADA Sign Height Requirements?

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.

Diagram showing the most common location required to hang ADA signs

What is Required on an ADA Sign?

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 Type Chart

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What Finish and Contrast are Required on an ADA Sign?

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. 

ADA Sign, Braille with High Contrast

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.

What are Braille Requirements for an ADA Sign?

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.

  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; for multi-lined text, place braille below the entire text
    • Note that additional elevator car control braille positioning instruction is also specified by the SAD
  5. Spacing – Separate braille by at least 3/8 inch from any other tactile characters, raised borders, or decorative elements
  6. Dimensions – The multiple braille dimension requirements are described in the illustration below

Diagram of ADA Sign Braille Requirements

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.

What are ADA Sign Requirements for Elevator Signs?

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:

  • Exterior Identification and Wayfinding – Outside of an elevator, an ADA compliant identification sign must identity the elevator. If an elevator is not accessible, directional signage is needed to direct to the nearest accessible elevator.
  • Door Jams – Inside elevator door jambs, a sign must mark the floor number. Door jams must also have braille indicating which floor it is and a raised visual image of a star marking the ground floor. The number marking the floor must be at least 2 inches tall and raised by at least 1/32 inch. The ADA required a minimum separation of 3/8 inch between the floor number and the braille, and the raised borders around the sign.
  • 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 required a minimum space of 3/16 inch between a number and the braille beneath it.

What are Pictogram Requirements for ADA Signs?

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.

diagram showing pictogram requirements for ADA signs

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

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:

  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 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

Standard ISA, international symbol of accessibility

 

 

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.

Modified ISA, international symbol of accessibility

When is the International Symbol of TTY Used?

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.

TTY Pictogram, teletype writer

 

When is a Volume Control Telephone Pictogram Used?

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.

Volume Control Phone Pictogram

 

What Pictogram is Required to Mark Assistive Listening Systems?

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.

Assistive listening system Pictogram

 

What Pictograms are Recommended for ADA Signage?

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.

Which Pictograms are Optional for Interior Signage?

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.

What are Raised Character ADA Sign Requirements?

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 of 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 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 at a minimum of 1/2 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; Characters shall be separated from raised borders and decorative elements 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) minimum
    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

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.

Raised Character ADA Sign Requirements Diagram

What are Visual Character ADA Sign Requirements?

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.

  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 table below; note that viewing distance shall be measured as the horizontal distance between the character and an obstruction preventing further approach towards the sign and character height shall be based on the uppercase letter “I”

Visual Character Height ADA Sign Requirements

Additional visual character requirements are as follows:

  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

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.

Visual Character Font ADA Sign Requirements

 

What are the Most Common ADA Sign Mistakes?

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. 

  • No Sign – If the space has a doorway or is permanent, an ADA compliant tactile sign is required—no exceptions
  • Insufficient Contrast – Provide high contrast between the background and any pictograms, letters, or braille
  • No Braille – When the ADA requires a tactile sign, braille is not optional; additionally, federal requirements indicate that braille be directly below corresponding sign text
  • Incorrect Braille Dimensions – Many ADA signs sold online do not have Grade 2 braille, even when advertised to be so
  • Incorrect Letter Size – The minimum letter height is 5/8 inch and the maximum is 2 inches
  • Incorrect Font – The only font type allowed is sans serif; see above for additional font stroke width requirements
  • Incorrect Spacing – Keep a 3/8 inch space between sign content components, including letters, braille, pictograms, and the sign edge

To be sure federal signage requirements are met, we recommend purchasing from an ADA sign expert who produces domestically.

How are ADA Sign Requirements Enforced?

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.

 

About Green Dot Sign®

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.

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