ADA Signage

An ADA compliant sign courtesy of Accent Signage Systems, Inc., Minneapolis, MN.

 

Copyright © 2005 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in March 2005, Volume 30, No. 9 of The Engravers Journal

    If you have a computerized engraving system, you have the equipment. If you know how to use your system, for example, to engrave plastic signs, you have the basic knowledge and skills. If you have any free time in your work day and/or if you feel that your business would benefit by adding a new, highly profitable product line, you should have the interest to learn more about the exciting and highly lucrative business of producing and selling A.D.A. signage.
    “What’s that?” a few newcomers to the industry are probably asking right about now. ADA is an acronym which stands for “Americans with Disabilities Act,” the 1990 federal law which provides equal access to people with disabilities of all types. In the case of ADA signage, the ADA mandates that all signs which identify “permanent rooms and spaces” contain a variety of special features, such as raised letters and Braille so the signs can be “read” tactually (by feel) by blind people, in addition to being read visually by sighted persons.
    Not only are tactile, ADA compliant signs required by law in all kinds of public places, they are extremely profitable to produce. Just imagine it—the law covers all places where goods and services are available to the public such as: schools, hospitals, office buildings, hotels, shopping centers. Doing the signage for one large facility can net the sign maker sums of $10,000 to $50,000 or more! What’s more, tactile signage isn’t just a U.S. issue any more. An increasingly long list of countries of the world are now requiring or soon will be requiring tactile signage—the same type as is mandated by the ADA.


 

Figure 1: Text must have sufficient contrast. Use either light characters against a dark background or dark characters against light backgrounds.

 

 

Figure 2: The ADA requires tactile text to be raised a minimum of 1/32" from the sign surface.

 


    To tap the ADA sign market, you’ll need to begin with these two simple rules: 1) Understand the ADA signage requirements, and 2) Use tried and true production methods.
    Your current equipment can probably produce all different types of ADA signs, from basic one-piece signs to elaborately designed and framed signs. Most of the ADA materials and supplies can be purchased from your current suppliers.
    For some, ADA Guidelines are still a daunting mystery. In this article, we’ll demystify the ADA Guidelines and enable you to overcome this barrier to ADA sign success. In 2004 the ADA Guidelines for signs changed. The revised 2004 ADA Guidelines correspond to the latest revision of ANSI standards, making both the ANSI standard and all codes and laws that we derived from them consistent. Hopefully this will make it easier on all of us. Most state laws also conform, but a few exceed or expand on the federal regulations, so be sure to consult your state code.
The Purpose of ADA Signage Guidelines
    The ADA law and its predecessors have strived to make building access and navigation information accessible to everyone, regardless of ability. Signage regulations have been influenced most by considering people’s differences in visual ability and mobility. Signs must be easy to find, easy to see and easy to touch.
    ADA signs must provide essentially the same information they do for a sighted person except for company names and logos, building directories and occupant names. Specifically, the ADA Guideline language states that “signs which designate permanent rooms and spaces” are subject to the ADA law. It goes on to say that the law also applies “where goods and services are made available to the public,” giving examples such as restrooms and “any other measures necessary to provide access to the goods, services facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation.”

 

 

Figure 3: Tactile text must be upper case. Text must have a character width (based on the upper-case letter "O") falling between 55% and 110% of the character height (based on the upper-case letter "I"). For visual/tactile text, letters must be from 5/8" to 2" high.


Making Signs Easy to See
    To address the needs of visually impaired people, signs must be in a predictable location and have easily readable text. For people who rely on Braille, the Braille location and readability is important. For partially sighted people, the requirement, “easy to read,” leads to specific text formatting, spacing and color requirements. Let’s review these requirements and note the recent changes.
Finish & Contrast
    Interior signs must have a non-glare finish to minimize reflections that could make the sign difficult to read. In addition, text must have sufficient contrast—either light text on a dark background or dark text on a light background (Fig. 1).
Raised Text
    Touching the letters on a sign allows a sight-impaired person to “read” the text message using their fingertips. The ADA requires tactile text to be raised a minimum of 1/32" from the sign surface. For raised text signs, material 1/32" thick (Fig. 2) is applied to the sign’s surface. Another popular technique is to use 1/16" material to provide the raised text, and then inlay it into a cut-out cavity in a 1/32" substrate. Having the inset portion recessed below the sign surface provides greater durability of the applied lettering while achieving the 1/32" raised requirement above the sign surface.

 

Figure 4: The border dimension of a pictogram shall be 6" minimum in height.

 

Figure 5: Braille dots must be domed or rounded, not flat-topped, and reach a height of between .025" and .037" above the surface of the sign.

 

  Figure 6: Spacing requirements assure that the reader can feel when one cell stops and the next cell begins. The spacing between dots must fall between .090" and .100".

Character Forms
    The ADA dictates that visual/tactile text must be upper case. Text that is visual only, e.g. overhead directories, can use any combination of upper and lower case characters. Text on all signs must be in a “sans serif” type face (text without decorative lines at the end of characters) and have a character width (based on the upper-case letter “O”) falling between 55% and 110% of the character height (based on the upper-case letter “I”). For visual/tactile text, letters must be from 5/8" to 2" high (Fig. 3).
    To assure the readability of signage text through either vision and/or touch, the regulations also specify the stroke thickness of characters. For visual/tactile text, the stroke thickness depends on the cross-section shape of the character. Text with a rectangular cross-section can be from 10% to 15% of character height, while text with a different cross-section can be from 10% to 30% of the character height. The 10% to 30% standard also applies to visual-only text.
    The cross-section (shape) of the raised text also affects the letter spacing. A “rectangular cross section” refers to raised letters where the sidewalls of the characters rise perpendicular to the sign background. A “beveled text cross-section” refers to raised letters which are narrower at the top of the letter and taper into a thicker form at the base where they meet the sign background.
    Text with a rectangular cross-section requires a space from 1/8" to 3/8" between the letters. Beveled text can be spaced from 1/16" to 3/8". The spacing requirements of these regulations assure that the reader can feel when one letter stops and the next letter begins.
    When specifying a font for an ADA sign, choose a sans serif font that meets the requirements just detailed while also considering the sign-making method. For signs where the raised text is applied to the substrate, a medium to bold font weight works best because the applied letters are beveled by cutting material away. For etched signs, a regular or medium weight font works best because etched signs often add material to the letter width.

 

 

 
Figure 7: Braille dots must be at least 3/8" from raised borders or any other raised decorative elements and a minimum of 1/4" from the raised text.


  Figure 8: Braille on the sign must be placed between 40" and 60" from the floor and mounted on the wall adjacent to the latch side of the door with the center of the sign at least nine inches from the door.

Line Spacing
    For all types of ADA signs, the space between the baselines of text must be from 135% to 170% of the character height. Tactile characters must be spaced at least 3/8" from any other raised decorative elements on the sign.
Pictograms
    When using pictograms (standardized graphic images) the border dimension of the pictogram shall be a 6" minimum in height (Fig. 4). Although pictograms aren’t required to be raised, they must have sufficient contrast with the background of the sign and have a non-glare surface. Text descriptors that go with the pictogram must be placed directly below the pictogram and must conform to the guidelines for tactile letters.
Braille
    When adding Braille to ADA signs you must use Grade II Braille, a form of Braille that contains contractions of individual letters that form words. The Braille dots must be domed or rounded, not flat-topped, and reach a height of between .025" and .037" above the surface of the sign (Fig. 5). The reason for these spacing requirements is to assure that the reader can feel when one cell stops and the next cell begins. The spacing between dots must fall between .090" and .100" (Fig. 6). The base diameter of the dots must fall between .059" and .063". The Braille dots must be at least 3/8" from raised borders or any other raised decorative elements on the sign to assure those elements don’t interfere with the reading of the Braille text (Fig. 7).
    The new guidelines also specify that Braille words must be lower case unless the word is the first word of a sentence, a proper noun or name, an individual letter of the alphabet, an initial or an acronym.


Signs with Visual Characters Only
    When you have directional signs and signs mounted perpendicular to the wall or hanging from the ceiling your text is considered visual text and can use both upper and lower case letters. Permissible text size is determined by the distance at which the sign will be read and its height above the floor. Signs mounted perpendicular to the wall (protruding signs) must be at least 80" off the floor. The ADA regulations contain a table describing these specifications.
Sign Installation—Making Signs Easy to Touch
    Improperly installed signs are often cited as the most frequent violation of the signage accessibility code. Because visually impaired people often need to physically touch a room sign, for example, the space in front of the sign, at least 18" by 18", must be free of any obstacles.
    ADA signs must be placed in a consistent location so they are easy to find. Federal regulations prescribe that signs be placed so that tactile characters are between 48" and 60" off the floor. Braille on the sign must be placed between 40" and 60" from the floor. To be compliant, ADA signs must be mounted on the wall adjacent to the latch side of the door with the center of the sign at least nine inches from the door (Fig. 8). If the room has double doors, the sign must be mounted to the right and out of the door swing space and at the same heights as just described. If one of the doors is stationary, the sign can be mounted on the stationary door with the same specifications as if it were wall space.


An Opportunity for Engravers
    The new ADA Guidelines are favorable for rotary engraved ADA signs. The beveled profile of ADA text allows closer character placement than other methods and less restrictive height-to-width ratios. Although there are several different ways to achieve Braille, the Raster™ Method of Braille creates the most readable, round Braille form available for tactile signs.
    The ADA has now been around for more than a dozen years but it continues to unlock new profit opportunities. This is particularly true for engraving professionals who have both the equipment and the know-how to produce great looking ADA signs. As I said in the beginning all you need to do to tap this lucrative market is to understand the ADA signage requirements and to use tried and true production methods. Hopefully this article will help you on both counts.

 

 

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