10 Vital Principles of ADA Signage Design

Before 1990, people with physical or mental disabilities spent decades struggling to fit into society. Physical and societal barriers prevented anyone with a disability from accessing certain places, gaining employment, or receiving equal rights.

It wasn’t until July 26th, 1990, that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) came to fruition. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a piece of civil rights legislation protecting the rights of those with disabilities. It prevents discrimination and includes helpful tools such as ADA signage.

ADA signage refers to tactile signs and symbols marking permanent rooms and spaces in public areas. These signs may include raised images, pictograms, braille, and letters. The ADA signage requirements include size, height, font size, and where to mount the signs.

You must follow several principles to create an ADA compliant sign. Check out these 10 vital principles of ADA signage design.

1. Clear Purpose

Any permanent room within a public building requires a sign meeting ADA compliance. Bathrooms, for example, are permanent rooms that always have ADA signage as their purpose never changes.

Rooms that may change purpose don’t need ADA signage. It’s up to the building owner and designer to decide which rooms have permanent purposes and which ones don’t.

Signs that don’t need to follow ADA compliance include building addresses, parking signs, menus, and directories.

2. Clean Large Font Styles

The information on an ADA sign must be legible and easy to understand. The font styles of letters must be Sans Serif or Simple Serif and capitalized. Each character has a minimum height of 5/8 of an inch and a maximum height of two inches.

Any words on ADA signage must remain in their conventional form. This means you need to avoid italicized, oblique, highly decorative, or bold style fonts.

3. Raised Letters and Braille

Any tactile ADA signage identifying a permanent space must include grade 2 braille and raised letters. The letters must have a rise of 1/32 of an inch.

Any on a sign must braille have a rounded or dome shape that’s not pointed or flat. ADA compliance signs place the braille beneath any corresponding text. Braille sizing and spacing is more flexible and depends on the requirements of a specific state.

4. Pictograms

Pictograms are simple images, like icons, that are easy to identify and read. There should be a written description of the image right beneath the pictogram. This is particularly helpful for those who can’t or have difficulty reading.

Not all pictograms need to rise from the sign. The four that require raising include:

  • International Symbol of Accessibility
  • International Symbol of TTY (telephone typewriter)
  • Volume Control Telephone
  • International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss

The pictogram also requires a six-inch field free from other content. Any text and braille included in the sign must remain outside and below the pictogram field.

5. High Contrast

To ensure proper legibility for everyone, all ADA signage must have a high contrast ratio between the content and the background. A sign should have either light-colored letters and content with a dark background or dark content and a light background.

There must be a 70% color and brightness contrast or higher in ADA color compliance signs. The colors you choose must also accommodate for color blindness. A few colors that work well include blacks, grays, whites, blues, and yellows.

6. Low Glare

A shiny sign may look sharp from a design standpoint, but it offers a high glare, making it difficult to read. ADA signage requirements include a matte non-glare finish on all signs. This will ensure the sign is fully legible when bright lights shine on the sign.

7. Sign Mounting

All ADA signage shouldn’t block any doors or safety equipment. The ADA requires tactile signs to hang on the wall on the door’s latch or doorknob side. Hanging signs on the door puts the user at risk of getting hit with a swinging door. The center of the sign must hang 48 to 60-inches from the floor. You can place ADA signs on adjacent walls if there isn’t enough space on the latch side of the door. Double doors can have an ADA sign attached to one non-active door. If both are active, you can place the ADA sign on the wall to the right of both active doors.

8. Informational Signs

The ADA considers informational signs as any sign that shares information on assistive services. This can include assistive seating, hearing devices, and more. You can find these near ticket windows or informational areas.

These signs often include one of the four pictogram images and a written description. Below the image and lettering is braille. Informational signs must follow the same text, brightness contrast, and finish requirements as other ADA signs.

9. Directional Signs

Directional signs provide directions to spaces inside a building. These also follow most ADA compliance requirements. They must have high contrast brightness, legible text, and a matte finish.

If an entrance isn’t accessible to everyone, the entrance must have a directional sign pointing to an accessible entrance. The same is true for bathrooms or other spaces that aren’t accessible to those with physical disabilities.

These signs will often have a mix of pictograms and text but don’t require raised content or braille. They also can hang from the ceiling as long as the bottom is at least 80-inches above the floor. Like other ADA signage, these can’t block any entrances or emergency equipment.

10. ADA Compliance Checklist

As you design or add ADA signage to your building, create an ADA compliance checklist. This ensures you meet all ADA requirements and avoid costly mistakes. A few common mistakes include:

  • Poor contrast
  • The improper spacing of elements
  • No braille
  • Improper font style and font size
  • Incorrect braille size and spacing
  • No signs marking permanent rooms

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for the enforcement of ADA requirements. Carefully follow these guidelines to ensure everyone can easily use and access your building.

Create Usable ADA Signage

By following the above principles of proper ADA signage, you’re allowing your space to be accessible by everyone. Both those with and without disabilities will be able to navigate a building and identify rooms with ease. Have questions or need a special sign for your business? Get in touch with The Sign Factory to discuss signage options for your business today!