Helping Students Find Their Way

July 1, 2001
Strategies for Success: Accessibility

When George Krause started working at Towson University in Towson, Md., a few years ago, it wasn't always easy to find his way around. Longtime employees of the school who were familiar with the lay of the land knew all the shortcuts and peculiarities of roads and walkways on campus, but for visitors and newcomers like Krause, navigating the campus could be frustrating.

Signs were in place, but were frequently inaccurate or in a less-than-ideal location because of new construction or departments that relocated. In addition, the university's name had been changed from Towson State University to Towson University, so many of the signs no longer were accurate.

“You can imagine the eclectic mix of colors, signs and materials we had,” says Krause. “It wasn't meeting people's needs. A lot of functions had been relocated. To me, it was obvious we needed new signs,” says Krause, facilities planner at Towson. “I had great difficulty finding my way around campus.”

So Towson embarked on an effort to upgrade the signage on campus. The $750,000 project replaced more than 250 signs and has created a “comprehensive and aesthetically consistent” system of signs on the campus.

A school or university with a clear, logical system of signs can help students, staff members and visitors navigate their way more easily around a campus. Although most exterior signs on a campus are not covered by the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a well-organized and understandable wayfinding system can help those with and without disabilities.


To help people know where they are going, Towson installed vehicular and pedestrian directional signs, campus orientation maps, student posting areas, vehicular and building entry markers, building entry plaques and architectural letters, parking and regulatory signs, and ADA signs. To help drivers who need more detailed help, the university put in several pull-off areas with orientation maps.

“We were trying to create a consistent hierarchy of signs,” says Krause. “And we had a marketing purpose — our name had changed and we wanted to project a new image. We also wanted to increase our ‘curb appeal.’ ”

ADA guidelines for signage mostly apply to indoor areas, but also to parking spaces for persons with disabilities and passenger loading zones. Those areas must have a sign with the international symbol of accessibility to identify them. That symbol also must be used to identify accessible building entrances and accessible toilet facilities in areas where not all entrances and toilet facilities are accessible.

Towson also included signs at various points on campus to warn persons with disabilities that they were heading into an area where they might have difficulty getting out.

“We had people going into unapproachable areas, and we wanted to help them avoid those situations,” says Scott Guckert, project manager in the facilities management department at Towson.


Inside school buildings, ADA regulations governing signs are more precise. According to ADA guidelines, these are some of the requirements for signs that designate permanent rooms and spaces:

  • Letters and numbers on signs shall have a width-to-height ratio between 3 to 5 and 1 to 1, and a stroke-width-to-height ratio between 1 to 5 and 1 to 10. Letters and numerals shall be raised a minimum of 1/32-inch, upper case, sans serif or simple serif type, and shall be accompanied with Grade 2 Braille. Raised characters shall be at least ⅝-inch high, but no higher than 2 inches.

  • Signs shall be installed on the wall adjacent to the latch side of the door. Where there is no wall space to the latch side of the door, signs shall be placed on the nearest adjacent wall. Mounting height shall be 60 inches above the finish floor to the centerline of the sign.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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