A Comprehensive Guide to ADA Sign Specifications
Table of contents
- What Role Does Signage Play in the ADA?
- What Are ADA Signs?
- What Makes a Sign ADA Compliant?
- Are All Indoor Signs Required to Be ADA Compliant?
- Do ADA Sign Specifications Vary by Location?
- Where Are ADA Signs Required?
- What Are the Guidelines for Installing ADA Signage?
- What Are Some Common ADA Signage Mistakes?
- How Are ADA Sign Specifications Enforced?
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?
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:
- Non-glare finish
- High level of contrast between characters and background
- Specific font and character properties
- Corresponding braille text
- Appropriate pictograms (required in some cases)
- Suitable mounting placement and height
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:
- Depth – Characters must be raised at least 1/32 inch (0.8 mm) above the background.
- Case – Raised characters should be in uppercase.
- Style/font – Raised characters on ADA signs must adhere to ADA font rules and be in a sans serif font. They also can’t be in an italic, script, oblique, highly decorative, or any other unusual form.
- Proportions – Characters should be chosen from fonts where the width of the uppercase “O” is at least 55% and at most 110% of the height of the uppercase “I.”
- Height – Measured vertically from the base, characters should be between 5/8 inch and 2 inches, based on the uppercase “I.” When raised and visual characters provide the same information, the height of the raised characters can be reduced to 1/2 inch minimum.
- Stroke thickness – The stroke thickness of the uppercase “I” should be a maximum of 15% of the character height.
- Character spacing – Character spacing is measured between the two closest points of adjacent raised characters within a message, excluding word spaces. Where characters have rectangular cross sections, the spacing between characters should be between 1/8 inch and four times the raised character stroke width. In cases where characters have other cross sections, the spacing between individual characters should be at least 1/16 inch and at most four times the raised character stroke width at the base of the cross sections, and at least 1/18 inch and at most four times the raised character stroke width at the top. Additionally, characters must be separated from raised borders and decorative elements at least 3/8 inch.
- Line spacing – Spacing between the baselines of separate lines of raised characters within a message must be at least 135% and at most 170% of the raised character height.
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:
- Case – Visual characters may be in uppercase, lowercase, or a combination of both.
- Style/font – Characters should be conventional in form and not have any decorative styling.
- Proportions – The requirements are the same as those for raised characters.
- Height – Visual character height is based on the uppercase “I” and measured as the horizontal distance between the character and an obstruction preventing further approach toward the sign.
- When the height from the floor to the baseline of the character is 40 inches to less than or equal to 70 inches, and the horizontal viewing distance is less than 72 inches, the minimum character height is 5/8 inch. When the horizontal viewing distance is 72 inches or more, the minimum character height is 5/8 inch plus 1/8 inch per foot of viewing distance above 72 inches.
- If the height from the floor is more than 70 inches to less than or equal to 120 inches, and the viewing distance is less than 180 inches, the minimum character height is 2 inches. When the viewing distance is 180 inches or more, the minimum character height is 2 inches plus 1/8 inch per foot of viewing distance above 180 inches.
- When the height from the floor is greater than 120 inches, and the viewing distance is less than 21 feet, the minimum character height is 3 inches. When the viewing distance is 21 feet or more, the minimum character height is 3 inches plus 1/8 inch per foot of viewing distance above 21 feet.
- Stroke thickness – The stroke thickness of the uppercase “I” should be between 10% and 30% of the height of the character.
- Character spacing – Character spacing is measured the same way as raised characters. However, spacing between individual characters should be between 10% and 35% maximum of the character height.
- Line spacing – The requirements are the same as those for raised characters.
In cases where both raised and visual characters are required (such as with identification signage), signs can be handled in one of two ways:
- One sign with both types of characters can be installed.
- Two separate signs with each type of character can be mounted.
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:
- Dot base diameter – The diameter should be between 0.059 and 0.063 inches.
- Distance between two dots in the same cell – Dots must be between 0.090 to 0.100 inches away from each other, measured center to center.
- Distance between corresponding dots in adjacent cells – Dots must be between 0.241 and 0.300 inches away from each other, measured center to center.
- Dot height – Dots should be between 0.025 and 0.037 inches in height.
- Distance between corresponding dots from one cell directly below – Braille dots should be between 0.395 and 0.400 inches away from each other, measured center to center.
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?
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:
- International Symbol of Accessibility
- International Symbol of TTY
- Volume Control Telephone
- 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:
- Temporary signs that are in place less than one week
- Building directories
- Lobby signs
- Seat and row designations
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?
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:
- Geometric display – Men’s restrooms must be identified by a 1/4-inch equilateral triangle with 12-inch edges, whereas women’s restrooms should have a 1/4-inch-thick circle with a 12-inch diameter. Unisex restrooms must be labeled with a 1/4-inch-thick equilateral triangle fitted within the 12-inch diameter of a circle. In each case, the edges of the symbols should be rounded at least 1/16 inch or chamfered at most 1/8 inch. Vertices must be radiused between 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch. Further, the color of the geometric symbols must contrast with the door. Any geometric display must be centered horizontally on the restroom door between 58 and 60 inches above the floor.
- Federal display – Standard California ADA restroom signs must have tactile text denoting gender access to the restroom, with braille text directly beneath it. Domed, Grade 2 braille with California spacing (0.100 inches between 2 dots in the same cell; 0.300 inches between corresponding dots in adjacent cells; 0.025 to 0.037 inches between corresponding dots from 1 cell directly below) must be used. Additional mounting requirements also apply.
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:
- Shopping centers
- Office buildings
- Hospitals and clinics
- Assisted living facilities
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:
- Numbered rooms
- Exam rooms
- Break rooms
- Utility rooms
- Changing rooms
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Double doors with one active leaf – Attach the sign to the inactive leaf.
- Double doors with two active leaves – Mount the display to the right of the right-side door.
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:
- No braille on identification signage
- Insufficient contrast between characters and background
- Incorrect braille dimensions
- Poor character or line spacing
- Decorative fonts
- Improper mounting height
- Lack of ADA signage
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!