Following the Signs

When purchasing signage, ensure you will be in compliance with the ADA by understanding what the law requires.

When it comes to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signs directing students, staff and visitors around a facility, especially those that provide direction to accessible pathways, entrances and equipment, must follow certain guidelines.

Permanent signs are divided into two major categories: -Identification signs. -Directional and informational signs. There are two guidelines that apply to permanent signs: -All permanent signs are to be made of material that is non-glare. The finish must be matte or slightly rough to touch. Shiny metals, plastics, highly polished woods, and painted or vinyl surfaces that are shiny do not comply. -All permanent signs must have characters-letters and numbers-and symbols that contrast highly with the sign's background. It is not necessary that just the colors contrast, but also the lightness and darkness of the colors. Therefore, subtle decorative colors and decorative typestyles will not comply.

Raising a point Signs identifying permanent rooms or spaces must have raised upper-case characters accompanied by Grade 2 Braille. If symbols or pictograms are included on these signs, the space for the pictogram is regulated. Also, pictograms that identify rooms or spaces must be accompanied by the word for that room in raised characters and Grade 2 Braille. The pictograms do not have to be raised.

Most identification will be by number, especially in a large facility. If there are existing signs that match the building's decor, they do not have to be removed. Instead, supplement the signs with those that do comply. Keep in mind that the compliant signs are not allowed to be installed on the door. They must be placed on the wall adjacent to the door at a specific height so that people with vision impairments who need to read the raised character or Braille sign, or view the sign from 3 inches, will not be hit by the door if it opens.

Permanent directional and informational signs are not required to have raised characters or Braille. The characters can be in any typestyle that has a specific character width and stroke width. The characters must be clearly visible from the distance at which they are to be read. The only specific height given is that signs suspended from the ceiling or installed 80 inches above the floor must have minimum 3-inch-high characters, measured by the height of a capital X.

Clearly visible is somewhat left up to individual interpretation. However, the characters should be able to be read by someone with impaired vision.

Whether or not a facility must remove existing signs depends on a number of factors. Existing facilities must only do what is reasonable. If replacing all directional and informational signs would be expensive in relationship to the size and budget of a facility, it only would be expected to order compliant signs as old signs require changing or as new signs are added. Any new signs must comply.

Many signs currently in schools comply with state and local codes, but may not comply with federal guidelines. In some cases, state laws may be more stringent. All signs should comply with the more stringent guidelines, whether they are state or federal. However, check with local authorities to see if signs need to be changed.

Enforcing the law While local building inspectors will make sure that new and remodeled buildings conform to state regulations, the ADA is a civil-rights law and not a building code, and therefore is enforced through complaints to the Justice Department. For those who refuse to make good-faith efforts to comply, a first offense fine can be up to $50,000, with later fines as much as $100,000.

For more information regarding ADA-compliant signage, contact the Access Board at (800)USA-ABLE.

Material provided by Accent Signage, Minneapolis.

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