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Commonly Overlooked ADA Exit Sign Requirements to Keep in Mind

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When it comes to signage, there’s no shortage of rules to follow. Unfortunately, some of those rules tend to go overlooked by sign professionals and business owners alike. For example, ADA exit sign requirements are more complex than most people realize. 

The good news is we’re here to simplify it all for you by giving a rundown of what characteristics these signs should have. 

But first, let’s talk about emergency preparedness and the role these signs play…

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 people are inside. But the fact is that business owners need to prepare for such events. It’s not just about ensuring the building is up to code; it’s about keeping people safe, reducing panic, and limiting damage. And that means having the appropriate features in place, including the following:

Additionally, many of these features, particularly exits, must have corresponding signage to make it easier for people to find and use them in an emergency.

However, despite knowing that emergency exit signs are crucial for leading people to safety, many business owners and property managers fail to consider ADA exit sign requirements when purchasing such displays for their building. As a result, they risk the safety of employees and visitors, along with hefty fines and lawsuits. That’s why sign fabricators and end-users should be aware of exit sign requirements and the drawbacks of not complying with these regulations. 

Why ADA Exit Sign Requirements Matter

As with all ADA sign specifications, ADA exit sign requirements exist to ensure displays fulfill their purpose: accommodating those with visual impairments. Installing signs that don’t meet those requirements can have a massive impact on businesses in several ways. 

  1. Even on an average day, having exit signs in place that don’t cater to people with disabilities can cause those individuals to feel alienated. They may develop a negative image of the business and its treatment of people with mobility issues or visual impairments, which they then share with others. As word spreads, the company can earn a reputation for not caring about employees and visitors who have disabilities. 
  2. Failure to comply with the rules put in place by the ADA can result in individuals with disabilities suffering injuries during an emergency evacuation. If they’re unable to read and understand the exit signs in a building, there’s a greater risk of them using the wrong exit or getting stuck inside.
  3. Regardless of whether an emergency 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 business owners should do their best to avoid. 

To reduce the chances of a business receiving bad publicity, leaving the door open to potential injury, and getting hit with lawsuits or fines, ADA exit sign requirements must be implemented in relevant signage.

This is especially important when a sign order is being outsourced to a third party. The sign shop originally tasked with completing the order must know what elements to look for when the finished product is received.

Understanding the Different Types of Exit Signs

Blue Economy exit sign from Erie Custom Signs mounted on door.

First, it’s essential to distinguish between directional exit signs and doorway exit signs. Both types of signage are needed in public facilities; however, they differ in installation and element requirements.

There are less stringent rules for directional exit signs than doorway exit signs. Signage within this category includes evacuation instructions, exit route maps, directional signs to exits, and rules of conduct. Per 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. 

When ordering ADA exit signs, it’s best to clarify which type is needed, as the rules for doorway exit signs are slightly more complex. 

What Are the Requirements for Exit Door Signage?

ADA exit sign requirements for doorways are included in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design 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.” 

Rules for Signs Themselves

All exit doors 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 the necessary elements. Under the ADA, businesses may install two 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 door.

There are also specific rules governing the types of characters that can be used on exit signs:

Finally, ADA exit sign requirements state that signage must not have any glare on the background finish, and there must be a distinct contrast (ideally, around 70%) between the characters and the background.

Rules for Installation

When installing exit signage, tactile characters must be at least 48 inches off the ground or finished floor from the bottom of the lowest line of text, and a maximum of 60 inches off the ground from the top of the highest line of text. However, the remaining rules vary slightly depending on the type of door. 


Though ADA exit sign requirements are often overlooked, sign professionals and business owners need to learn the rules. In doing so, the chances of getting ADA-compliant signage that will perform well in an emergency are significantly increased. Fortunately, the information covered here should put you in a good position. 

If you’re in the market for ADA-compliant exit signage, check out our Quick Ship Signs today!

Click here to check out our sign families!

Filed Under: ADA Signage

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