How to Create ADA Compliant Signs

Published September 3, 2020

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has laid out clear rules for designing signage that enables persons with sensory disability to read and understand them correctly. ADA compliant signs in public spaces must include a pictogram, tactile text, Braille, or a combination of these to ensure that people with disability can navigate the area easily and safely. ADA’s Standards for Accessible Design 2010 lists all the signage rules and requirements, which are specified according to the sign’s purpose.

Key regulations for creating ADA compliant signs

It is important to understand and comply with the relevant ADA regulations prior to designing an ADA sign. Here are some of the key rules:

  • ADA signs must have a high contrast ratio (strongly contrasting colors between the content and the background) as well as a non-glare finish.
  • Text characters in ADA signage must be in a clearly distinguishable sans serif or serif font, which is not in italics, and is not condensed or extra bold.
  • Signs that mark or identify a public area or space should be created in Grade 2 Braille, which enables a person with visual disability to read it as fully integrated words. Braille spacing and sizing standards are more stringent in some states.
  • Where applicable, the ADA compliant sign must include the appropriate pictogram, such as, a symbol for stairs or restroom, or an ISA symbol for wheelchair, etc.
  • The letter size must range between 5/8 of an inch and 2 inches in terms of height.
  • The sign’s tactile characters must be at a height of 48 to 60 inches from the ground (measured from the base of the characters).

Suggested best practices for ADA signs

Apart from complying with the ADA regulations, sign designers can follow certain best practices to create more effective signage. For example, the ADA rulebook does not specify what may be defined as a "high contrast ratio." But a best practice would be to maintain at least 75 LRV (light reflectance value) or higher between the background and content.

In low-lit areas, a best practice would be to create a sign with a dark background and bright content to improve visibility. Overhead signage should ideally be repeated at eye level. Uniformity in textures, colors and text will further assist people. Care should be taken to see that lighting shadows do not interfere with visibility when a sign is hung.

Avoid the errors of character spacing

One of the common violations of the ADA sign regulations is incorrect spacing between text, pictograms, or Braille. Character spacing is essential as defined in the regulations. The specifications are fairly simple, but the error happens when the space between some character pairs is naturally less. To ensure compliance, this spacing must be increased more than normal.

The bottom line

Designers and typographers must remember that their goal is to create ADA compliant signs that are easily distinguished and understood. A majority of ADA sign violations occur either from a lack of awareness of the regulations or in an attempt to bypass the rules to enhance the building’s aesthetics.

Respect for the rules, and more importantly, understanding the needs of the people with a disability can help ensure proper compliance and the production of excellent ADA signage.