What Exactly Makes a Sign ADA Compliant?

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Many people associate signs that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with braille. However, there is a lot more to ADA compliance than that. Although braille is certainly one of the most distinguishing characteristics of an ADA-compliant sign, there are a lot of other regulations in place that dictate what exactly constitutes compliance with the law in terms of signage.

Here are a few general rules about what makes a sign ADA compliant…

1) A Non-Glare Finish

Why it’s important: People who have impaired vision, especially elderly people, are not able to process glare or reflection very well. That’s why one of the requirements for ADA signage is a non-glare finish. It ensures that everyone who visits a public building can read important signage with ease.  

What’s required: For a sign to be considered ADA compliant, it must have a background and characters that do not create any glare. Usually, this is accomplished by using a matte, eggshell, or other type of non-glare finish. Without this kind of finish, the sign doesn’t meet one of the most basic requirements for ADA signage.

It’s worth noting that this rule is specific to indoor signs. Outdoor signs for parking and traffic aren’t required to follow this rule. 

2) A High Level of Contrast

Why it’s important: Like the non-glare finish feature, a high level of contrast on interior ADA signage is key to readability. When characters seem to blend into a sign’s background, it can be difficult to read the text. When characters contrast with the background, however, those with visual impairments can understand the information on the sign. 

What’s required: To meet ADA sign requirements, a display must have high contrast between the characters and background. Although a specific amount of contrast isn’t outlined in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, 70% is usually recommended. Ultimately, it’s about ensuring the characters and background are different enough that the characters stand out.  

The way in which contrast is achieved is also flexible. Colors are not extremely important—just as long as there is a stark contrast. This is why you typically see white characters on a black or other dark background, or black characters on a white background. Either way presents a very high contrast.

3) Appropriate Font and Character Properties

Why it’s important: A big part of what makes a sign ADA compliant is that it can be read and understood by anyone, including those with visual impairments. That way, those attempting to read the sign aren’t forced to squint or move around just to figure out what the display says. Ultimately, it’s about preventing frustration, which is why typefaces should be easy to read. 

What’s required: To adhere to ADA guidelines, a sign should use an ADA-compliant font—specifically a sans serif font that’s as plain as possible. Typefaces should be easy to read. Examples of acceptable sans serif fonts include Verdana, Helvetica, and Futura. Additionally, characters on the sign should not be italic, script, oblique, highly decorative, or in any other unusual form.

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Here are some other font and character properties that factor into sign designs:




Stroke Thickness

4) Corresponding Braille Text

A blue x-ray room sign with braille text and stainless steel standoff caps.

Why it’s important: Having braille elements on ADA signage allows those who are blind or have reduced vision to navigate a building easily. It provides them with important information, such as the location of restrooms. Individuals can use the braille to confirm they’re where they’re meant to be. Further, the use of braille on displays helps foster a more inclusive and welcoming atmosphere. 

What’s required: Per ADA guidelines, any sign identifying a permanent room or space must have braille text. In those cases, Grade 2 braille should be used. The braille dots must have a domed or rounded shape and be within the following dimensions:

Note that California has its own requirements for braille that are slightly different from those at the federal level. A braille sign in this state should have dot spacing in these dimensions:

5) Suitable Mounting 

Why it’s important: Although the characteristics of the sign itself are essential, the way it’s mounted also plays a role. Room-identifying signs should be placed appropriately. Otherwise, it’s difficult for people to read. The goal is to hang each ADA sign in a convenient spot.  

What’s required: Any signs identifying a room or space should be placed adjacent to the door they are marking so they can be more easily located by people who are deemed “functionally blind.” This is because functionally blind people expect to see a sign next to the door to tell them where it leads. Specifically, ADA guidelines require signs to be installed a minimum of 48 inches and a maximum of 60 inches above the finish floor or ground surface. 

The Importance of Understanding What Makes a Sign ADA Compliant

Understanding what makes a sign ADA compliant ensures you get the signage you need. Armed with this knowledge, you can confirm the signs you order from a fabricator meet all the necessary requirements.   Of course, there are more detailed rules affecting individual types of signs and circumstances, but these general rules cover most ADA sign cases.

For more information or to order signs for your facility, contact us today at Erie Custom Signs!

Filed Under: ADA Signage

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