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A Guide to ADA-Compliant Fonts for Signage

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As you probably know, signs must meet a lot of requirements to be considered ADA compliant. But one of the most critical and often misunderstood is the presence of an accessible font. The rules about ADA-compliant fonts for signage are pretty complex. So, it’s no surprise that end users and sign professionals alike can get confused.

At Erie Custom Signs, we get it. 

That’s why we’ve created a helpful guide that addresses general rules, FAQs, and more. 

By the end, you’ll discover the case, style, and size requirements for fonts used on signage. As a result, choosing the right font will become a much easier task. More importantly, you can ensure those with limited vision can easily read ADA signs in your or your client’s building. And that is the ultimate goal.

Why Using ADA-Approved Fonts on Signs Is Important

The purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is to prevent discrimination against those with disabilities. ADA signs must be designed with people who are visually impaired in mind. That way, they can read the signs with ease and enjoy equal access to the building.

To illustrate the importance of ADA-approved fonts, here’s a scenario for you…

You’re trying to read a sign with small, ornate lettering from a distance. You squint your eyes in an effort to focus on the words, but the message is still unclear. You start walking toward the sign, eventually closing the distance and ending up mere inches away.

Attempting to read such a poorly designed sign would be frustrating for someone with 20/20 vision, let alone an individual with 20/200 or less.

What would be challenging for you would be much more difficult for someone with severely limited vision. If a person is unable to read a sign, they could miss out on important information about the following:

Plus, there’s the not-so-small matter of legality. Failure to comply with ADA rules (yes, even minor issues such as font) can result in a business suffering legal and financial consequences. As with all features required to be compliant, signage must be carefully designed and fabricated, considering ADA guidelines every step of the way.

Ultimately, using an ADA-compliant font on signs ensures accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired and protects businesses. 

What Are the Rules for ADA-Compliant Fonts for Signage?

Custom storage sign from Erie Custom Signs with wood grain look, logo, and ADA-compliant font with corresponding braille.

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design outline various criteria that must be met for compliance, including those related to signage. In fact, the rules for ADA-compliant fonts on signage are very strict. ADA signs are required to use sans (without) serif fonts. These are fonts that include a smaller line to finish off the main stroke of a letter, like at the top and bottom of “M.” In short, block characters—letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and typographic symbols—are required by law. 

However, the requirements are even more detailed than that. They also factor in character style, size, case, height, and more.

Here are the general rules for raised characters on identification signage:

Below are the specific requirements for raised characters, along with explanations for each. 

Depth

This just means that all important text must stick out a minimum of 1/32” from the sign. 

Why?

It allows people with reduced vision to read the information on the sign through touch. Note that this is a different requirement from braille, which is necessary for people who are blind. 

Case

All characters on a sign should be uppercase, and lowercase should be avoided.

Why?

Uppercase letters stand out more. The consistency in size also allows visually impaired people to read the text on the sign more comfortably. 

Style

All letters and characters are required to be in a sans serif font that has straight edges, without little hooks or decorative edges. 

Why?

Overly stylized fonts can be tricky to read, especially from a distance. Those with plain styles, on the other hand, are less likely to cause confusion. 

Proportions

All raised text on signs should be in an ADA-compliant font with the correct proportions. The width of the uppercase “O” should be between 55 and 110 percent of the height of the uppercase “I.”

Why?

If the proportions are off, it can be difficult for someone with limited vision to read the text clearly. The characters may appear to blur together. 

Height

The ADA guidelines define font sizes by height, requiring characters to be between 5/8 inch and 2 inches tall based on the uppercase “I.”

Why?

This ensures the text is big enough for someone to read comfortably from a distance. 

Stroke Thickness

This means that the character’s weight should be no more than 15 percent of its height. 

Why?

Stroke thickness should be consistent to ensure the text is clear and can be read even by a vision-impaired person. 

Character Spacing

On ADA signs, the individual characters should be spaced between 1/8 inch and 4 times the stroke for rectangular cross sections, spaced between 1/16 and 4 times the stroke at the narrowest part of nonrectangular cross sections, and separated at least 3/8 inch from borders. 

Why?

If characters are spaced too close together, they can become crowded, making the text illegible. If they’re spaced too far apart, not all the important information may fit on the sign. 

Line Spacing

This means that spacing between lines of characters should be between 135 and 170 percent of the height of the characters. 

Why?

As with characters, lines of text need to be appropriately spaced so those with reduced vision can read them. Having enough distance between lines avoids any accidental overlap.

Need multiple displays for different rooms and applications? Click here to check out our sign packages.

FAQs about ADA-Compliant Font Guidelines

As mentioned, there are many rules about proper font application with ADA signage. Even after reading them all, it’s not uncommon to have lingering questions about ADA-compliant fonts. To help you out, we’ve addressed a few FAQs below.

1) Are All Fonts ADA Compliant?

No, they’re not. ADA sign guidelines are very specific, and not all font types meet the requirements for signs. Times New Roman, for example, isn’t compliant for raised characters. So, it can’t be used for the raised text on a room identification sign. 

2) Is a Larger Font ADA Compliant?

The short answer is yes. A larger font is required on all ADA signage to achieve compliance. However, it’s important to highlight that the font size for raised characters should be between 5/8 and 2 inches high. 

3) Does All Text Have to Be Sans Serif?

Under 703.2.3 of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, all important text on identification signage (such as the name of the room) must be sans serif with no italics or overly decorative lettering. However, if a business wants to add a logo containing a unique font, this is acceptable.

4) Do the Above Rules Apply to All Types of ADA Signage?

As noted previously, the rules above are specific to raised characters on identification signage. Most of the requirements, including line spacing and proportions, also apply to visual characters on directional and informational signs. But there are some differences. 

Here are some additional guidelines for visual characters:

Note: When visual characters comply with the rules set for raised characters and are accompanied by suitable braille, the above rules don’t need to apply. 

5) Is Bolder Better When It Comes to Font?

Actually, no. Most people assume a bold font would help text stand out more. However, choosing one that’s too bold can make the text appear blurry, especially for those with limited vision. That’s why business owners and sign fabricators are cautioned against selecting an overly bold font. 

A good example of a bold font that doesn’t meet ADA guidelines is Bauhaus 93.  

6) Is Cursive ADA Compliant?

No, cursive is not considered ADA compliant for signage. The guidelines specifically mention that script should not be used for raised characters. So, using cursive for important text on identification signs is prohibited. 

7) What Are the Consequences of Not Using an Ada-Compliant Font?

Though the misuse of font may seem like a minor issue regarding ADA compliance, it can negatively affect a business. By installing a sign that doesn’t have the appropriate font, businesses can be hit with ADA-related lawsuits or fines. That’s why it’s so important to choose a suitable font for ADA signage in the design phase. 

An alphabet, set of numbers, and punctuation marks in a sans serif font.

Despite providing detailed visual and raised character requirements for signage, the ADA doesn’t explicitly state what fonts are permitted. The only style guideline is that fonts must be sans serif and not italic, oblique, script, highly decorative, or otherwise unusual. However, that’s enough to provide a good idea of what can be considered ADA-approved fonts.  

Sans serif fonts are as plain and straight as possible, increasing the ease of readability.

Examples of the most accessible fonts that meet the above criteria include the following:

Resources for Finding the Most Accessible Fonts

If you’re wondering where to find ADA-approved fonts, the good news is you don’t have to look very hard. There’s no shortage of resources online to download fonts if you need additional sans serif options. Just look through the choices available and determine which best fits your or your client’s branding. 

Here are some resources worth checking out:

If you’re downloading fonts to a computer running Windows, make sure to save all fonts to the C://Windows/Fonts folder on your computer. They will automatically install when saved to that location. That means you will be able to use them on any program that fetches fonts from your computer, from Microsoft Word to Photoshop and InDesign.

Tip: Working with a sign shop that has a graphic designer on staff makes finding an eye-catching, ADA-compliant font a lot easier. And doing so can ensure that your or your client’s new signs not only improve accessibility for all visitors but also complement the existing décor.

Takeaway

It’s true the rules surrounding ADA-compliant fonts are complex. However, failing to use the correct size, style, spacing, and type could result in a sign being noncompliant. That’s why it’s crucial to learn and apply the guidelines. In doing so, you can avoid leaving your business or your client’s business vulnerable to noncompliance issues.If you’re still unsure about the types of fonts you can and can’t use for your next signage project, rest assured you can count on Erie Custom Signs. In addition to being ADA experts, we use state-of-the-art software that automatically spaces letters and notifies us if a font is not compliant. Plus, we offer various sign options that include a list of available ADA-approved fonts, making your decision that much easier. Check out our sign packages today!

Filed Under: ADA Signage

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