ADA Through 5 Frequently Asked Questions

May 2019


Our team is asked numerous questions on ADA guidelines for signage, every day. Here are a few answers to the most frequently asked questions.

Why does the ADA exist?

The Americans with Disabilites Act (ADA) was developed to make it possible for everyone, including those with a disability, to freely access public services and guarantees access to places of public accommodation, and do so without discrimination. The ADA is an extension of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Why BOTH tactile and Braille?

Not everyone who is blind was born that way, and fewer than 10% of blind Americans can read Braille. Many people lose their sight when they are older and may never learn Braille, but they know how to recognize letters by their shape. For these people, the transition of learning to read tactile letters on a sign, is much easier than learning the new coding of Braille. Therefore BOTH tactile and Braille are key elements of accessible signage.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) looks at the readability of signs from two perspectives: those who are blind and those with limited visual abilities. Tactile text with Braille is there to assist those who are “touch” readers. For those with limited or reduced sight abilities, we go to the next question.

Can I just have the same color for the raised text and sign background?

All signage, even those without tactile graphics, must incorporate highly contrasting colors and a non-glare finish into their designs, you can read more about this here. The National Federation for the Blind indicates that as of 2015 2.3% of US adults were identified as visual disabled, and as the Baby Boomer generation ages this is expected to increase. This contrast is key for anyone with limited or deteriorating sight, goes a long way in helping people be self-sufficient in public arenas, and makes your signage much more functional.

Side note. The current version of the ADA includes a section on "dual signs" which allow for the text and background color to be the same. In this approach, the raised text and Braille must be accompanied with visual text on the sign (the visual text is less confined in its presentation on a sign). (Refer to 703.1 of the ADA for complete details.)

Are there rules on the installation locations?

Signs must be installed in a specific, consistent area of the wall, alongside of door openings. An important thing to note is that the mounting height of the sign is based on the height of the tactile characters above the finished floor. The code spells out most of the mounting scenarios in specific detail.

When do signs need to include a symbol (or picto)? Do I have to use a symbol?

There are two types of symbols to consider on this question. First, male/female and stair symbols are most commonly used for Restroom and Stairwell identification signage, however, ADA does not require these symbols be included. It only provides specifications about how they must be displayed, if you choose to include them on your sign.

The second symbol to consider is the universal symbol of accessibility. This symbol is required to be posted in a variety of ways, but the primary question comes into play with Restroom identification signage. In this case ADA only requires the accessibility symbol to be displayed at a restroom entrance if not all restrooms within a facility are accessible. (Note: all new construction now requires that they are. Because of this, in a newer facility it is assumed that a restroom is accessible and therefore it does not need to be identified as such.)

Side note. When a restroom is NOT accessible, then the restroom identification sign must also include information directing to the closest accessible restroom.

Signs are designed, specified, and fabricated every day, and some aspects of signage are not well defined within the ADA, leading us to make a responsible interpretation, largely based on the intent of the ADA Standards. Keeping the end-user in mind and always striving for a "best practices" solution is always your best option.

Have questions on ADA? We're here for that.

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