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An Overview of Accessible Signage Guidelines for Canadian Businesses

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If your business is based in Canada (or you offer interior signs to those that are), you should be familiar with the country’s accessible signage guidelines. This is key to ensuring public facilities have the right displays installed. Further, it reduces the chances of either your business or a client’s business alienating customers with disabilities—and possibly facing financial consequences. 

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of information out there. Moreover, the rules aren’t as straightforward as they are in the United States. As a result, figuring out which elements should be added to signs can be a challenge. The good news is we’ve provided a general overview and some best practices to follow. 

But first, let’s talk about why public buildings should have accessible signage in place…

Why Accessible Signage Is Important

Businesses and government facilities that are open to the public are just that—open to the public. So, those in charge are responsible for providing equal access to everyone who enters the front doors. This means taking steps to accommodate those with disabilities such as visual impairments. 

According to CNIB, an estimated 500,000 Canadians are blind or partially blind, while 1.5 million report having some degree of sight loss. For these people, accessible signage is a must-have. Without the help of tactile signs, they may have trouble navigating a building or getting the information they need.

That’s why having accessible signage in place is so important. It plays a major role in creating a safe and welcoming environment for those with sight loss. Plus, it helps deliver the best experience possible. 

In addition, following accessible signage guidelines and installing the right displays lets business owners avoid consequences like the following:

With all that in mind, let’s move on to accessible signage guidelines in Canada… 

How Canadian Requirements Differ from American Requirements

Canada and US cloth flags overlapping

The biggest way Canadian requirements for accessible signage differ from American ones is in how they’re set and enforced. 

In the United States, public entities across the country must comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). The rules for features such as signage are laid out in the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. That said, businesses may need to meet additional specifications set by their city or state (such as those for restroom signs in California). 

In Canada, it’s not quite as straightforward. That’s because a true Canadian equivalent of the ADA hasn’t been put in place just yet. Instead, provinces have passed their own legislation to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. 

For example…

However, the Accessible Canada Act was passed in 2019. And since then, the country has taken a big step toward having rules that apply across the board. This act established Accessibility Standards Canada to help create a barrier-free Canada. Once those are decided on, organizations based in Canada will need to comply. 

What This Means for Now

Until federal rules are put in place, Canadian businesses (and sign shops working with them) should follow the accessible signage guidelines set by the province where they’re located. But when clear specifications aren’t given, it’s time for best practices…

Click for a custom quote on ADA signage.

Basic Accessible Signage Guidelines & Best Practices for Canadian Businesses

As mentioned above, there aren’t country-wide standards for accessible signage in Canada just yet. However, many groups and provinces throughout the country have build their own codes using guidelines from two resources:

  1. The ADA Standards for Accessible Design
  2. The Canadian Standards Association (CAN/CSA-B651-95, Barrier-Free Design)

Using these resources, we put together some basic accessible signage guidelines and best practices to follow.

Let’s dive in…

Where to Have Signs

When it comes to accessible sign installation, a good rule of thumb is to have signs in all permanent public spaces and rooms. 

Some examples are as follows:

Even if a display isn’t legally required in an area, it’s still worth installing one. Remember—the goal is to make the building accessible to all visitors. And clearly marketing all permanent spaces allows those with sight loss to navigate more easily.

What Design Elements to Include on Signs

 Blue electrical room sign with braille lettering

Although accessible signage guidelines can vary between one province and the next, there are some design elements that are generally agreed upon. 

Both the CSA and ADA standards require signs to have a non-glare finish. Having a matte, eggshell, or other type of finish without a glare makes the sign easier for all visitors to read. So, it’s recommended to include this element in all accessible signage.  

A high level of contrast between background and text is also outlined by the CSA and ADA. This can be done by placing light characters on a dark background or vice versa. The goal is to make sure the text stands apart from the background.  

Raised text and braille lettering are especially important for those with visual impairments. Braille Literacy Canada states that braille should be rounded, left aligned, and set horizontally. Additionally, capital letters should be avoided, except for emergency instructions. The standard for braille in Canada is Unified English Braille.  

Depending on where a business is located, additional text in French may be required. A multilingual design can ensure all visitors are able to read and understand the information on the sign. In such cases, braille should be included underneath as well. 

Both the CSA and the ADA list sans serif font in their accessible signage guidelines. Some examples of sans serif fonts include Arial, Futura, Helvetica, and Trebuchet. Stylized text should be avoided, as it can be difficult to read.

ADA guidelines require uppercase letters in all cases. However, there’s more flexibility with the CSA guidelines. For accessible signs in Canada, initial uppercase letters can be used to help with word recognition. 

Like the ADA, CSA guidelines note that the international symbol of access should be used wherever accessible facilities are identified. 

Takeaway

Providing equal access to a facility is important. And a big part of that is having the right displays in place. By following the accessible signage guidelines above (and province-specific requirements), Canadian businesses and their sign partners can ensure signs are designed with accessibility in mind.

As Erie Custom Signs is now taking sign orders from Canada, our team is happy to address any questions or concerns you have about accessible signage. Feel free to reach out!   

Filed Under: Design and Customization, Uncategorized

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