ADA Compliant Sign Requirements (A Quick Guide)

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) signage provides critical wayfinding and ensures accessibility for all. Failing to meet ADA compliant sign requirements risks violations or penalties from the Department of Justice (DOJ). Properly designed and installed ADA-compliant signage removes barriers for people with disabilities and enables everyone to navigate and access facilities independently.

This comprehensive guide outlines the most important ADA standards and regulations for business signage. Understanding these requirements is crucial for companies to avoid complaints and maintain an accessible, welcoming environment. We explain proper sign height and placement, tactile and braille requirements, rules for different sign types and locations, guidelines for color contrast and finish, common mistakes to avoid, and tips for ordering custom ADA signs.

Following ADA signage guidelines shows your commitment to serving all customers and employees. Beyond avoiding legal problems, accessible signage benefits your business by improving customer experience and supporting your diversity and inclusion efforts.

Sign Height and Placement

ADA guidelines state that the baseline of the lowest character on the sign must be positioned between 48 and 60 inches above the ground or floor surface. This range allows people of varying heights to easily view and read the sign. The exact height depends on the purpose and location of the sign.

For overhead mounted signs, the baseline of the lowest character should be at least 80 inches above the floor and the bottom of the sign should be at least 7 feet above the ground.Doorway signs should be mounted on the wall adjacent to the latch side of the door at a height of 60 inches to the centerline of the sign. Restroom symbol signs should be mounted at 60 inches to the centerline.

The purpose and placement of the sign will determine the appropriate mounting height within the 48 to 60 inch range. Following ADA guidelines for sign height and placement ensures critical information is accessible for everyone.

Tactile Characters and Braille

ADA signage requirements specify detailed standards for tactile characters and braille to ensure signs can be read by vision impaired individuals. Tactile characters must have a width-to-height ratio between 3:5 and 1:1 and a stroke thickness of 10–15 percent of character height. There should also be a 1/8 inch minimum space between individual tactile characters to make them distinguishable by touch. The characters must be raised at least 1/32 inch from the background surface.

Whether braille is required or optional on ADA signage depends on the purpose and location of the sign:

  • Braille is required for tactile signs providing information about permanent rooms and spaces. For example, restroom signs, room numbers, and exit signs require braille.
  • Braille is optional for posted information like directional signs or notices. The ADA Standards allow braille to be omitted in these cases.
  • Tactile exit signs must have the word “EXIT” in tactile letters and Grade 2 Braille. The braille should be located directly below the tactile letters.

By meeting the specifications for tactile characters and braille, businesses can ensure their ADA signage is accessible to blind and low vision individuals.

Signage by Area

ADA signage requirements vary depending on the type of area within a building. Specific signage is mandated for certain spaces in order to direct access and provide critical information.


At primary public entrances, the International Symbol of Accessibility is required to identify accessible entrances. Directional signage should also be posted showing the location of accessible entrances.


Restrooms must be identified by the standard gender pictograms and include tactile signage with braille. Signs should have a raised male or female pictogram, the International Symbol of Accessibility if it is an accessible restroom, and braille room identification.


Compliant exit signs with the word “Exit” must be located above all exit doors. Lettering must meet requirements for height and stroke thickness.


Tactile floor designations and braille signage must be provided at elevator hoistways. This should indicate the floor number at each elevator entrance.

Color Contrast and Finish

ADA signage must have sufficient color contrast between the text and background for readability. Light characters on a dark background provide the best contrast. Recommended color combinations include white or yellow text on a black, dark blue, or dark green background.

The ADA Standards state that “Characters and their background shall have a non-glare finish. Characters shall contrast with their background with either light characters on a dark background or dark characters on a light background.”

A matte or eggshell finish is recommended to minimize glare and reflections. Glossy or mirrored finishes make signs difficult to read due to glare and should be avoided. A 70% or greater differential between the light reflected from the brightest and darkest colors on the sign provides good legibility.

In addition to light vs. dark contrast, using complementary colors like yellow and black or white and blue creates sharp visual contrast for maximum readability. Red and green should be avoided as color combinations since red-green color blindness is common.

Pictograms and Symbols

Pictograms are visual symbols that help convey information quickly and easily. On ADA-compliant signage, certain pictograms are required to identify restrooms, exits, accessibility features, and other key locations. According to the U.S. Access Board’s ADA Standards, pictograms that provide information about a room or space do not require tactile or braille characters, but should adhere to the following requirements:

The standard accessible pictograms, like the International Symbol of Accessibility, should be used to ensure universal understanding. Creative or stylized designs are not permitted. Pictograms should be accompanied by equivalent verbal descriptions placed directly below them. A high contrast between the pictogram image and background color must be maintained. Pictograms that indicate accessibility features must meet a minimum illumination requirement to ensure visibility. Refer to the ADA Standards for details on illumination and luminance contrast levels.

By using readily recognized standard pictograms and maintaining strong visual contrast, ADA-compliant signage allows critical information to be conveyed to all people effectively.

Interior vs. Exterior Signs

There are some key differences between interior and exterior ADA signage when it comes to overhead clearance, reflectivity, and illumination requirements.

Exterior signs must have a minimum overhead clearance of 80 inches (2030 mm) to the bottom edge of the sign per ADA guideline. This ensures adequate clearance for tall individuals and mobility devices.

Outdoor ADA signs also have more stringent requirements for luminance contrast and reflectivity. Exterior signs must have a minimum 70% visual contrast ratio, compared to a 60% minimum contrast for interior signs. Reflective or illuminated materials are typically needed to achieve visibility outdoors.

Proper exterior illumination is also critical. Exterior sign illumination must be even across the sign surface, with a minimum light level of 30 footcandles for at least 60 inches in height. Careful placement of exterior lighting is needed to avoid glare.

In summary, overhead clearance, reflectivity, and illumination are key considerations for exterior ADA signage that differ from interior sign requirements.

Common Mistakes

Many businesses unfortunately make errors when installing ADA signage that leaves them noncompliant. Some of the most common mistakes include:

Mounting the sign at the wrong height is a frequent issue. ADA guidelines require tactile characters on signs to be 48-60 inches off the ground measured to the baseline of the lowest character. Mounting too high makes signs unreachable, while mounting too low makes them hard to notice or obscured by other objects. Always double check the proper mounting height.

Insufficient contrast between the text/pictograms and background is another mistake. Light characters must contrast with their background with at least a 70% luminance contrast ratio. Dark characters only require a minimum ratio of 20%, but more contrast is preferable. Don’t rely on eyeballing it – use a photometer to measure actual luminance.

Using the wrong sign finish can reduce readability. All ADA signs must have an eggshell, matte or other non-glare finish. Glossy or reflective finishes can create glare that makes signs hard to read.

Be vigilant in avoiding these common errors that can lead to ADA noncompliance and inaccessibility. Carefully review all signage to ensure it meets requirements before opening a building to the public.

Ordering Custom Signs

When ordering custom ADA signs, it’s important to work closely with your sign manufacturer to ensure the end product meets all necessary guidelines. Uou should discuss your specific ADA signage needs with the manufacturer early on. Provide details on the location, purpose, and any unique requirements for each sign you need made. The sign company can help advise on the best options to meet ADA standards.

It’s also crucial to get sign drawings approved by all stakeholders before final production begins. This allows you to confirm the location, size, colors, text, symbols, and braille are correct. Some sign companies will provide virtual previews or print samples for review. Going through an approval process reduces errors and the need for rework after the signs are made.

By starting the conversation early and getting sign proofs formally approved, you can feel confident any custom signs ordered will comply with ADA requirements. Lean on your sign vendor’s expertise in ADA guidelines to inform the design process from start to finish.

ADA Compliant Sign Requirements – Key Takeaways

Meeting ADA signage requirements is crucial for businesses to ensure accessibility and avoid violations. Here are some of the key takeaways to keep in mind:

  • Signs must have certain character heights and stroke thickness based on viewing distance (ex. 5/8″ for viewing <6′)
  • Braille is required for certain permanent interior signs like restrooms, exits, etc.
  • Signs must have 70% visual contrast between character and background color
  • Standard accessibility pictograms must be used when required
  • Interior signs must have non-glare finish while exterior signs need reflectivity
  • Mounting height is typically 48-60″ from floor to baseline of lowest tactile characters

For full ADA signage guidelines see the Access Board’s guide. Additionally, work closely with your sign vendor to ensure any custom signs meet requirements during design and production. Signage is a key aspect of ADA compliance, so investing in proper installation is critical.

About the Author

Ready To Be Seen? Get a Free Quote!