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A Comprehensive Guide to ADA Sign Specifications

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Having a basic understanding of ADA sign specifications is crucial. If you aren’t clear on all the requirements, you risk running into noncompliance issues that will cost you or your client. That said, trying to get a good grasp of all the rules and regulations can be tough. There’s a lot of information out there containing complicated jargon that can leave you feeling confused. 

At Erie Custom Signs, we know that learning the ins and outs of ADA signage can be a challenge. That’s why we put together this comprehensive guide—to make it easier for you to familiarize yourself with ADA sign specifications. 

By reading through this resource, you’ll get a crash course in all things related to ADA signage. And as a result, you’ll be able to trade your confusion for confidence.  

Let’s get started…  

What Role Does Signage Play in the ADA?

Signage plays a key role in fulfilling the mission of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is to ensure access, opportunity, and inclusion for those with disabilities. Under Title III of the ADA, facilities that are open to the public must meet certain standards for accessibility. Further, they’re expected to make reasonable modifications to serve people with disabilities. This includes having helpful communication elements and features, such as signage, in place. 

Although signage may seem like a minor feature, it’s one of the most important accommodations businesses need to make. When compliant signs are available, people with visual impairments can navigate a building safely and easily. The signs provide them with the guidance they need to enjoy equal access, which is what the ADA is all about. 

What Are ADA Signs?

ADA signs are displays that provide information and direction to people with visual impairments. They have specific characteristics that make them easy to read both visually and through tactile touch. Typically, these signs are used to label permanent features, spaces, and rooms in and around a building.      

Oftentimes people mix up ADA signs with braille signs or tactile signs. But ADA sign specifications are much more extensive. 

What Makes a Sign ADA Compliant?

High-pressure laminate housekeeping sign in a faux wood and stone finish with braille text.

ADA sign specifications vary depending on a display’s purpose. Signs that identify a space must meet stricter guidelines than those that offer information or direction. For a sign identifying a permanent room, space, or feature to be considered ADA compliant, it must look a certain way and be installed correctly. 

Here are some of the requirements for this type of ADA signage:    

What Are the Guidelines for Raised and Visual Characters?

According to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, raised characters on ADA signs (specifically identification signage) must meet the following guidelines:

There are also specific requirements for visual characters on directional and informational signage. Some are the same as those for raised characters, but there are a few notable differences. For instance, depth requirements don’t apply. 

Additional guidelines for visual characters are as follows:

In cases where both raised and visual characters are required (such as with identification signage), signs can be handled in one of two ways: 

  1. One sign with both types of characters can be installed. 
  2. Two separate signs with each type of character can be mounted.
Click to download a free ADA sign product catalog.

What Are the Guidelines for Braille?

Per the ADA, any sign identifying a permanent room, space, or feature should have corresponding braille text. In such cases, Grade 2 braille must be used, with dots having a domed or rounded shape. 

To meet federal guidelines, braille should be within the following dimensions:

It should also be noted that the indication of an uppercase letter should only be used before the first word of sentences, proper nouns, individual letters, initials, and acronyms. 

What Are the Guidelines for Finish and Contrast?

ADA sign specifications for finish and contrast apply to identification signs, directional signs, and informational signs. Per ADA guidelines, all ADA signage should have a non-glare finish, such as matte or eggshell. Additionally, there should be a high level of contrast between the characters (except for braille) and the background. Although there isn’t a specific level of contrast required, 70% is usually recommended.  

What Are the Guidelines for Pictograms?

All-gender accessible restroom sign with a faux wood finish and braille text.

When pictograms are included on ADA signage, they need to meet certain guidelines as well. For starters, the same requirements for finish and contrast apply to pictograms. A light pictogram can be placed on a dark field or vice versa. Additionally, pictograms must have a field height of at least six inches. Further, pictograms should have text descriptions located directly below the pictogram field. 

Do All ADA Signs Need Pictograms?

No, not all ADA signs are required to have pictograms. In fact, only four symbols are specifically outlined in the Standards for Accessible Design:

  1. International Symbol of Accessibility
  2. International Symbol of TTY
  3. Volume Control Telephone
  4. International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss

The International Symbol of Accessibility is the most common symbol found on signage. It’s used to show that a room, space, or feature is accessible for those with disabilities such as mobility issues. 

That said, the use of pictograms is considered a best practice for restroom signs, elevator signs (including “in case of fire” signs), and stair signs, to name a few.   

Are All Indoor Signs Required to Be ADA Compliant?

No, not all indoor signs are required to be ADA compliant. Per chapter 216 of the Standards for Accessible Design, the rules only apply to permanent signage within a building. Further, ADA sign specifications vary depending on sign type. For example, identification signs for exits, rooms, stairs, restrooms, and elevators must have corresponding braille and, oftentimes, pictograms. Directional and informational signs must meet all other requirements besides braille and pictograms.  

Some examples of indoor signs that don’t require any characteristics related to ADA compliance are as follows:

Do ADA Sign Specifications Vary by Location?

Federal ADA sign specifications apply to all facilities across the country. However, some states, counties, and cities have additional guidelines. To avoid noncompliance, you should consult an expert on requirements for your area, such as a local building inspector.  

What Are the Guidelines for California Restroom Signs?

All-gender accessible California ADA restroom sign with a gray triangle on a white circle.

ADA sign specifications for California restroom signs differ slightly from federal standards. That’s why two signs are usually installed. However, in some cases, a single sign that meets both federal and state requirements can be fabricated to meet a business’s needs. 

The guidelines for California restroom signs are as follows: 

Where Are ADA Signs Required?

ADA signs are required in any building that is open to the public. In general, these displays should be located at the doorway of every permanent room and space. Additionally, ADA signs are needed for areas related to safety, such as elevators, fire exits, and stairways.        

What Types of Businesses Must Have ADA Signs?

Any building open to the public is required to adhere to ADA sign specifications. This means businesses of all types need to have ADA signage in place. The following are some examples of facilities covered under Title III of the ADA:

Which Rooms Need to Have ADA Signs in Place?

ADA signs are required anywhere a display is needed to identify a permanent room, space, or feature. This means rooms that will serve the same function for more than one week. Examples include the following:

What Are the Guidelines for Installing ADA Signage?

Although most ADA sign specifications are related to the displays themselves, there’s also installation to consider. Basic guidelines for installing ADA signage include the following:

  1. Place tactile signage in the proper location.

Any ADA sign with tactile characters should be mounted to the wall on the latch side of the door. If there’s no wall space available on a single door’s latch side or to the right of double doors with two active leaves, the sign can be installed on the closest adjacent wall.

  1. Ensure signs are mounted at the appropriate height.

Install displays between 48 inches, measured from the baseline of the lowest tactile character, and 60 inches, measured from the baseline of the highest tactile character, from the floor. However, California signs should be measured from the bottom of the tactile character instead of the baseline. 

  1. Allow for clear floor space. 

Make sure there is clear floor space of at least 18 inches by 18 inches between the arc of the door and the sign. An additional guideline is that a person should be able to stand within three inches of an ADA sign without running into any protruding objects or getting in the way of the door’s swing. 

(Need additional directions? You can download The Ultimate Guide to Mounting Your ADA-Compliant Signs here.)

Can You Install ADA Signs on Windows?

Yes, if there is no space available on the wall. When there are windows on the latch side of a door, you may install an ADA sign on the glass. However, the same height requirements apply. 

Can You Install ADA Signage on Doors?

Yes, if space on the wall is limited or nonexistent. ADA sign specifications for installing displays on doors are as follows:

Further, a door-mounted ADA sign is permitted on the push side of a single door that closes automatically and doesn't have a hold-open device.

What Are Some Common ADA Signage Mistakes? 

Because ADA sign specifications are so complex, it’s not unusual for mistakes to occur. Some of the most common include the following:

To avoid making these mistakes, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules and work with a fabricator that has ADA sign expertise. 

How Are ADA Sign Specifications Enforced?

Typically, building inspectors are the ones who audit public facilities to determine if ADA sign specifications have been followed. Officially, however, it’s the Department of Justice that enforces all ADA rules and regulations. 

What Are the Consequences of Noncompliance?

If signs don’t meet ADA guidelines, business owners can face serious financial repercussions. For starters, the Department of Justice has imposed costly penalties for noncompliance. The maximum penalty for a first-offense Title III violation is $75,000. 

However, fines aren’t the only thing business owners need to worry about. There’s also the risk of ADA-related lawsuits, bad publicity, and loss of customers. 


There’s a lot to keep in mind regarding ADA sign specifications. However, having a basic understanding is the best way to protect your business or your clients from the potential consequences of noncompliance. So, use this guide as a resource to familiarize yourself with the rules, and feel confident you know what’s required. 

For clarification or to place an order for your next sign project, contact us at Erie Custom Signs today!

Filed Under: ADA Signage

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