The Importance of Emergency Preparedness
No one wants to consider the possibility of a fire, flood, or other disaster wreaking havoc in their building, especially when there are people inside. But the fact remains that business owners need to be prepared for such events by having the appropriate features in place. The elements required for public buildings typically include the following:
- Fire extinguishers
- Smoke detectors
- Stair access
- Automatic sprinkler systems
- Emergency exits
Further, many of these features, particularly exits, must have signage in place to make it easier for people to find and use them in the event of an emergency.
Despite knowing that emergency exit signs are crucial for leading people to safety during an event, many business owners and property managers fail to take ADA exit sign requirements into consideration when purchasing such features for their building.
This negligence has the potential to not only risk the safety of employees and visitors but also lead to hefty fines and lawsuits.
That’s why sign shop owners are strongly encouraged to provide clients with a rundown of ADA exit sign requirements and to describe the drawbacks of not complying with these regulations.
Why ADA Exit Sign Requirements Matter
As with all ADA sign regulations, exit sign requirements can have a huge impact on businesses in a number of ways…
- Even on an average day, having exit signs in place that don’t cater to those with disabilities can result in said individuals feeling slighted. They may develop a negative image of the business and its treatment of people with mobility issues or visual impairments, which they then vocalize to friends, family members, coworkers, etc. As word spreads, the business can earn a reputation for not caring about employees and visitors who have disabilities.
- Failure to comply with the rules put in place by the ADA can result in individuals with disabilities suffering injury during an emergency evacuation. If they’re unable to read and comprehend the exit signs in a building, there’s a greater risk of them using the wrong exit or getting stuck inside.
- Regardless of whether an emergency situation occurs, failing to meet ADA exit sign requirements can lead to businesses being slapped with fines. In fact, organizations can be fined as much as $75,000 for a single ADA violation, and signs are not exempt from this fine. Additionally, despite efforts to reduce the number of ADA-related lawsuits filed each year, litigation is still common and something that business owners should do their best to avoid.
To decrease the chances of clients receiving bad publicity, leaving the door open to potential injury, and getting hit with lawsuits and/or fines, sign shop owners must ensure that ADA exit sign requirements are fully understood and implemented in relevant signage.
This is especially important in cases where a sign order is being outsourced to a third party, as the sign shop originally tasked with completing the order must know what elements to look for when the finished product is received.
Types of Exit Signs
First and foremost, it’s important to differentiate between directional exit signs and doorway exit signs. Both types of signage are needed in public facilities; however, they differ in terms of installation and element requirements.
- Directional exit signs, as the name suggests, offer directions to nearby exits in a building. These signs are placed on walls in corridors, hallways, and large spaces.
- Doorway exit signs indicate which doors actually lead to an exit. These signs are mounted next to the exit doors following ADA sign mounting guidelines.
It should be noted that there are less stringent rules with directional exit signs than doorway exit signs. Under ADA guidelines, directional exit signs are required to meet visual criteria only. These criteria refer to font, text height, surface glare, color contrast, and mounting height.
Signage that falls within this category includes evacuation instructions, exit route maps, directional signs to exits, and rules of conduct.
When working with a client who requests ADA exit signs, it’s best to clarify which type they need, as the rules for doorway exit signs are slightly more complex.
ADA Exit Sign Requirements for Doorways
ADA exit sign requirements for doorways are included under the rules for signs that show a “means of egress.” Specifically, the rules refer to doors to exits considered to be any area “separated from the interior spaces of the building by fire-resistance-rated construction and that leads to the exit discharge or the public right of way.”
To meet compliance, all exit door signage must feature a tactile sign with raised characters and Braille lettering. This ensures that individuals with visual impairments will be able to understand the sign as well as any other person in the building. However, a single sign is not required to have all of the necessary elements. Under the ADA, businesses may install two separate signs: one visual and the other tactile. For example, a common practice is to install a white sign with red “EXIT” lettering on the ceiling and a tactile sign next to the doorway.
As with all ADA signage, there are also rules regarding character font, style, spacing, and height that can be used on exit signs:
- Characters should be in uppercase and sans serif font.
- Characters should be selected from fonts where the width of the uppercase letter “O” is 55 percent minimum and 110 percent maximum of the height of the uppercase letter “I.”
- Character height measured vertically from the baseline of the character should be 5/8 inch (16 mm) minimum and 2 inches (51 mm) maximum based on the height of the uppercase letter “I.”
- Characters should be separated from raised borders and decorative elements at 3/8 inch (9.5 mm) minimum.
- Raised characters should be 1/32 inch (0.8 mm) minimum above their background.
- Tactile characters should be at least 48 inches off the ground or finished floor and a maximum of 60 inches off the ground.
- And more
As for the placement of exit door signage, the rules vary slightly depending on the type of door:
- Exit door signage should only be on the latch side of the door.
- For double doors with only one active side, the sign can be mounted on the inactive side. If both doors are active, the sign must always be placed on the right side of the right door.
- Additional requirements are required for recessed doors, push doors, and the amount of clear floor space needed near a tactile sign.
Finally, ADA exit sign requirements state that signage must have a contrast ratio of 70 percent between the touchable lettering and the background behind such lettering.
Though ADA exit sign requirements are often overlooked, sign shop owners have a responsibility to familiarize themselves and their clients with the rules. In doing so, the chances of delivering ADA-compliant signage that will perform well in an emergency is greatly increased.
And, understanding what elements are required in exit signs can help position a sign shop owner as an authority on all things ADA, even if they opt to outsource their clients’ orders to a third-party fabricator.