ADA Accommodation #3: Principles of Signage*

Signage is one of the “Readily Achievable” statuses under ADA Accommodation. Basically, this means that you should be able to afford to achieve this ADA Accommodation. (For further detail see here: ADA Accommodation Cost.) Signage is also one of the most least understood ADA Accommodations.


ADA Requirements for Signage:

While there are many different requirements for when signs should be placed, here are some general guidelines.

  • Signage should be placed when there are multiple paths of travel or when points of destination (such as main entrance) is unclear.  The pedestrian circulation path should coincide with the accessible route.  So directional signage from the accessible parking to the main entrance, or from an assembly area to a restroom are prime candidates for adding signage.  We’ve all had problems locating where the restrooms or where a main entrance is, but that problem can become compounded if you are mobility impaired.
  • Directional signage is not required to have Braille.  But signage to permanent rooms and locations should have signage.  Braille should be Grade 2 Braille.   So Braille signage must be present for stairs, elevators and rooms.
  • Braille signage must be accompanied by raised lettering.  This means that if it says “Room 32” then the lettering for “Room 32” must be raised.
  • The Braille for signage must not be located where there is danger.  If someone is reading the braille but the sign is in the door swing, that’s a problem.  Someone reading the sign could be hit by the door.  The ADA 2010 has the added requirements for the placement of the signs to clarify the unclear 1990 requirements.  Placement of the signs include 48-60 inches on center above the finished floor measured from the highest tactile character and centered a minimum of 9 inches from the door swing.  In California, there are requirements for restroom signs to be placed additionally on the door.  These signs must not have Braille on the swing-side of the door.  (ADA Accommodation for Restroom Signs in California)
  • The contrasting color requirements for the signs apply not only to the differences between the background of the sign and the lettering of the sign but also between the sign and the wall color.  Blending the sign into the wall does not make for accessible signage.  Likewise, reflective or semi-reflective signs are non-compliant.  We mention that also here:  ADA Accommodations #2:  Restrooms
  • There are added requirements for the proportions and spacing of each of the elements in the sign so be sure to check for these specific requirements.  For instance, elevator signage must be a minimumm of 2″ high for the jambs.


Discussion of ADA Accommodations

Sign Picture #1: Visibility

This picture is of a parking sign.  While required at parking spaces, this sign is both too low for the ADA requirements (which want a minimum height of 60 inches for all head parking signs), and this sign is not easily visible, as the plants around it partially cover the sign.  Where plants and signs are concerned, all signage should be easily visible.  This means that it is visible from the general circulation path, either of vehicles (if the sign is for drivers) or for pedestrians (if the sign is for pedestrians).  The ADA has the additional requirement that the parking head signs be visible to on-coming drivers seated on the driver’s seat.  (This means that the sign can’t be too high).

While there is no requirement for the maximum height of signage, the California Building Code (CBC) has the additional requirement that if in the circulation path, the head parking sign must be a minimum of 80 inches high as measured to the bottom of the sign.  So this California code requirement does not apply if the sign is wall mounted.  What this means is that if the parking warning sign (under CBC 1129B.4) is post mounted in the circulation path, it must have the lowest edge at 80 inches high from the path.  If this sign is on the wall, it may be less than the 60 inches required by the ADA, as it is not required by Federal law to be there.


Sign Picture #2 & #3: Latch side Signage and attending clear floor space

The latch side of a door is the side of the door where the handle is.  On that side, there must be a sign to designate that space if it is a permanent room or space.  So for an office, as the offices are numbered, there should be a sign present with raised letters and braille.  That sign must be of contrasting color.  Restrooms also must have a six by six area for a pictogram on this sign with an icon for mens, womens, unisex or family.  There is an additional requirement for clear floor space of 18 inches centered under this latch side sign.

This second picture does not have that latch side sign, it only has the California door sign required by the CBC.  By the looks of the drinking fountain, this door also would not have the clear floor space of 18 inches unless they removed the drinking fountain.

Likewise, this third picture violates the latch side sign height requirement and the floor clearance requirement.  There is a stool in the clear floor space.  The stool could be easily removed, and should be, as it is a barrier.

Additionally, the placement of the latch side sign as being so close to the door creates a hazard as someone who is reading the sign could be hit by the door swing. The 1990 ADA standards were unclear as to how far the sign should be from the door — the verbiage stated that the sign should be placed so that the door swing would be at least 3 inches from someone reading the door. At its current location, this would not be the case. This sign should be re-mounted so as to be a minimum of 9 inches centered from the door.






Sign Picture #4 & #5: Parking Warning Sign Visibility

In California, this sign is required either at the head of each accessible parking space or at every entrance to the parking lot. We had a client recently ask us if it was okay to mix and match. Mixing and matching isn’t addressed by the code but the principle behind this sign should be that a driver should have to encounter this sign on her way to park — and be warned that if she parked in the parking space reserved for the disabled she better have the proper disabled placard.

So placing the sign on a pole that isn’t even remotely close to the parking lot entrance, or placing the sign in such a way that it faces the wrong way defeats the purpose of presenting the sign to drivers. Likewise, in this photo allowing graffiti to be plastered all over the sign, or allowing the graffiti and stickers to persist on the sign makes a business liable for a lawsuit. (This sign must also be filled out with the telephone number to retrieve the car, or the tow-lot/police station to be fully compliant.)

As a stronger statement about signage is that it must be clearly visible. If the sign is damaged, turned the wrong way as in sign #5 (it’s not facing on-coming drivers, as it’s facing away from the street) then that facility is liable for not being in compliance.


ADA Compliance Takeaway

So you understand, the point of all these articles is to educate you readers about what ADA compliance entails.  Both what to do, how to approach it, how to best comply and what the common pitfalls for complete ADA compliance are.

Education is mostly free.  I have to spent a few hours, maybe a day and a half each week, working on articles, and you have to take time to read it, to shift through the multitude of available information.

Ultimately, though, we make a living doing ADA inspections and ADA consultation.

We  do know the laws and ADA regulations, but we don’t know your facility.

I can write about the most common and glaring problems, but I can’t advise you on your particular site.  Even if you submitted pictures, I can’t measure slope or spot issues you may not know about.  If you find this information helpful, feel free to drop an email or a comment.  Submit a picture too, if you like.  I can email you back with an opinion.  (Money is even more appreciated!)

But seriously, give me some genuine feedback and let me know if this was helpful or if you would like me to cover a specific topic.  If I get enough requests, I’ll take the time to write an article on it.  If you’re interested in having us apply our knowledge to your place of business/place of public accommodation in the form of an ADA consultation, by all means call us at 866 982 3212 or email us at

*Note: The California Building Code may have changed its requirements since the writing of this article.

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