As a business owner, you should always be aiming to welcome all customers and clients. Making sure your business is accessible to all can include providing step-free entrances, wide aisles and passageways and alarm systems with flashing lights and noise. The signs in your building should also be accessible and usable by everyone.

In many cases, making your business as accessible as possible and creating a space any person can use creates good business sense. Nearly 20% of the U.S. population has some form of disability. When your business doesn’t comply with ADA accessibility guidelines and isn’t accessible to all, you risk losing customers.

By understanding the rules and requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, you can help make your building and business as welcoming as possible to as many people as possible. By complying with the ADA, you can make your business more accessible to everyone.


The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The goal of the ADA’s is to ensure the same opportunities to people with disabilities just as anybody else that participates in everyday life in the U.S. Through the guidelines of this act, it is ensured that people with any disability are able to take part in government programs, run errands, make purchases and have equal opportunities for employment. THE ADA is a civil rights law modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The ADA defines a disability as a mental or physical impairment that prevents a person from participating in at least one significant life activity. The ADA does not provide a specific list of disabilities and impairments.

The ADA defines a disability as a mental of physical impairment that prevents a person from participating in at least on significant life activity.

The ADA consists of five sections, or titles. The section that most likely concerns your business is Title III, Public Accommodations. The four others cover a different area of life, such as employment, telecommunications, government services, and miscellaneous provisions.

Organizations in this category include businesses and service providers that are for-profit and nonprofit, as well as private transportation providers and entities that offer courses and exams. The standards and requirements of Title III cover a company that owns or leases a retail store, restaurant, hotel, theater, daycare center, convention center, medical office, or even a zoo.

The question “Who has to be ADA-compliant?” is answered in Title III. It provides guidelines all construction built after 1992 must follow. The section also highlights changes existing facilities should make to remove barriers, provided they can do so without too much expense to the building’s owner or tenant.

The regulations laid out in Title III provide guidance and standards that allow businesses that qualify as public accommodations to remove obstacles that would otherwise prohibit or exclude people with disabilities from equal treatment. Among the barriers that need removal or alteration are inaccessible signs.

The original ADA was revised in 2010 by the Department of Justice. Design standards was a big part of the revisions. Chapters 2, 4 and 7 of the DOJ’s 2010 ADA Standards include information on signage requirements, including what rooms and buildings need to have ADA-compliant signs and the features that make a sign follow ADA compliance.



Chapters 2 and 7 of the 2010 DOJ’s ADA Standards outline the required ADA signs. Chapter 4 focuses on requirements for signs and identification in elevators.

Section 703 of the ADA Standards states the rules and requirements for ADA signs. Signs need to provide both visual characters and tactile characters. A building may have either one sign with both visual and tactile characters on it, or two distinct signs — one with visual characters, and the other with tactile characters. The section details the specific requirements for raised characters, Braille, visual characters and pictograms.


To comply with the standards stated in Section 703, raised characters need to be:

  • Uppercase
  • 1/32 inch above the background
  • In a sans serif font — no decorative or script fonts allowed
  • Have a height between five-eighths and two inches, based on the height of uppercase “I”
  • Width of the letter “O” will be at least 55% of the height of uppercase “I” and no more than 110% of “I”‘s height.
  • Raised characters can be a half-inch minimum in height in cases where visual characters are present and provide the same information.
  • The thickness of the letter “I” will be, at most, 15% of its height.
  • Spacing between characters will be one-eighth inch minimum.
  • Spacing between separate lines will be a minimum of 135% of the height of the raised characters.
  • The edges of the raised characters need to be smooth and not rough or sharp.

Section 703 also details the requirements for Braille letters:

  • Braille dots need to have a rounded or domed shape.
  • Uppercase letters can only be in the first words of sentences, names, individual letters of the alphabet, proper nouns, initials and acronyms.
  • Dots should be 1.5 mm to 1.6 mm in diameter, and between 0.6 mm and 0.9 mm in height.
  • Braille placement should be below the corresponding text. If there are multiple rows of text, Braille should be underneath all of it. There are exceptions for elevators.

When a tactile sign is in use, it needs to sit at a certain height, between 48 inches and 60 inches above the ground. When a sign is next to a door, it needs to be on the side with the latch. If placed next to a double door with two active doors, the sign should be on the right side. If only one door is active in a set of double doors, the sign should be on the inactive door.



Section 703 also outlines the ADA requirements for visual characters and pictograms on a sign. To comply with the requirements, the visual elements on a sign need to:

  • Have a non-glare finish.
  • Have high contrast, such as light characters on a dark background or dark characters against a light background.
  • Be either upper or lowercase or a mix of both.
  • Be conventional in shape  not script, decorative or italic.
  • Be proportional. The width of uppercase “O” should be between 55 and 110% of the height of uppercase “I.”
  • Be the appropriate height based on the height of the sign. A sign that is between 40 and 70 inches off of the ground should have characters with a height of at least five-eighths of an inch.
  • Be between 10 and 30% of the height of uppercase “I” in thickness.
  • Have spaces between the characters that is between 10 and 35% of the height of the characters.
  • Have spaces between the lines of characters that is between 135 and 170% of the height of the characters.Visual Signage - if pictograms are part of the signage, the image should be at least 6" tall

If pictograms are included in the signage, the images should be at least six inches tall. Letters and Braille should not be in the same visual field as the pictogram.

ELEVATORS need ADA signage too

Section 703 makes exceptions for signs placed in elevators. Chapter 4 of the 2010 ADA Standards provides the elevator signage requirements.

The signs indicating floor designations in elevators need to be on each side of the elevator entrance. The signs need to provide floor designations in both Braille and tactile characters. In an elevator, the raised characters must be at least two inches tall. Elevators also need to have a tactile star to indicate the main entry level of a building.

How to know if your building needs to be ADA-compliant

If your business provides “goods and services” to the public, it is a public accommodation and the ADA’s rules and standards need to be complied with. There is often a misconception that the ADA’s guidelines are only for new buildings. In reality, the standards state public accommodations need to comply with the rules when doing so is “easily achievable.”

The responsibility for making sure a building is ADA-compliant falls on either the landlord, if they are leasing to a tenant, or on the owner of the building if they are using it for their business. If your business falls into one of the following categories, it’s a public accommodation and needs to follow the ADA’s standards.

  • Entertainment complexes, such as movie theaters or stadiums
  • Establishments that provide social services, such as food pantries, senior centers or daycare centers
  • Exercise facilities, such as gyms or yoga studios
  • Hotels or other places of lodging
  • Places of public display, such as museums or art galleries
  • Places of public gathering, such as a convention center
  • Private schools
  • Recreational facilities, such as amusement parks or zoos
  • Restaurants or bars
  • Sales establishments, such as stores or bakeries
  • Service establishments, such as salons, funeral parlors or laundromats
  • Transportation depots, such as bus stops or railway stations

Does every room need ada signage?

The buildings of businesses that fall under the public accommodations category need to be ADA-compliant, as long as following the standards doesn’t put too much of a financial burden on the business. However, not every sign in every room of a building needs to comply with the rules created in Chapter 7.

Chapter 2 of the 2010 ADA Standards explains exceptions to the rules, and details circumstances that do not need to fulfill the requirements of rooms that need ADA signs laid out in Section 703 or detailed in Section 216.

Signs that do not need to be ADA-compliant include:

  • Seat and row designations in an assembly area
  • Signs in correctional or detention facilities that aren’t in public use areas
  • Signs in parking facilities
  • Signs that indicate a building address, company name, company logo or occupant names located in a building directory or menu
  • Temporary signs that will be up for fewer than seven days

Additionally, exterior signs that aren’t in the doorway don’t have to comply with the rules detailed in Section 703.

These are where you need ada signage

Along with stating areas where signs do not need to comply with ADA sign standards, Section 216 outlines ADA sign location requirements and the types of signs that do need to comply.

For example, restroom signs must comply with Section 703.5. If the restroom itself is accessible, ADA requirements for bathrooms state the signs need to include the International Symbol of Accessibility. If the restroom is not accessible, there has to be nearby directional signs nearby that direct people to the location of the nearest accessible bathroom.

ADA sign compliance also requires accessible signs to be located at areas of entrance or exit. If a specific door is not accessible, there needs to be a directional sign showing a person to the closet accessible entrance.

A easy way to decide whether or not a room needs ADA-compliant signage is to ask yourself if the room is a permanent part of the building or structure. A safe way is to always follow/use ADA-compliant signs, even if you aren’t sure you need them. You can create good business snese by providing your services to anyone and everyone.


There are a few things that can happen If your business doesn’t follow ADA sign requirements. If someone visits your business and finds the signs aren’t compliant and they feel discriminated against, they have the option of bringing a lawsuit against your company.

If an attorney general believes a lack of compliance indicates a pattern of discrimination, they can decide to intervene in the private lawsuit and bring a civil action against your business.

As of 2014, a business may pay a penalty of $75,000 for its first violation if found that it violates ADA standards. For any continued violations, the fine can be up to $150,000.

Along with possible lawsuits and steep financial consequences, there is also the damage to your reputation to consider. If your business doesn’t have the appropriate signage or violates the ADA in other ways, your customers might seriously consider taking their business elsewhere.



Making sure your business has ADA-compliant signage is one of the simplest ways to remove barriers that help to make your company more inclusive and accessible. If you’ve noticed some of your signs aren’t 100% in compliance with the ADA’s standards, our studio can help you replace the non-compliant signs with signage that meets the requirements.

If you have any questions about what makes a sign compliant or where you need to use signs that meet the ADA’s guidelines, SpeedPro East Bay is available to answer them. Contact us today to get started with transforming your business into a company that’s genuinely inclusive and welcoming to everyone.