Do All Buildings Require ADA Signage?

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019| SpeedPro Cleveland West



Do all buildings require ADA signage?

As a business owner, you want to welcome all customers and clients. Making your business 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 makes 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.

Understanding the rules and requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act can help you make your building and business as welcoming as possible to as many people as possible. Knowing what’s required of your business can help you make sure you comply with the ADA.


President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990. The ADA’s goal is to guarantee people with disabilities receive the same opportunities as other people to participate in everyday life in the U.S. The act provides guidelines that ensure people with any disability can participate in government programs, run errands, make purchases and have equal opportunities for employment. The act 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 list specific 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. Each covers a different area of life, such as employment, telecommunications, government services and public accommodation. The section that most likely concerns your business is Title III, Public Accommodations.

Organizations in this category include for-profit and nonprofit businesses and service providers, 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 restaurant, hotel, theater, convention center, medical office, zoo, daycare center or retail store.

Title III answers the question, “Who has to be ADA-compliant?” It provides guidelines all construction built after 1992 must follow. The section also outlines 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 standards and guidance that allow businesses that qualify as public accommodations to remove obstacles that would otherwise exclude or prohibit people with disabilities from equal treatment. Among the barriers that need removal or alteration are inaccessible signs.

In 2010, the Department of Justice published revisions to the regulations outlined in the original ADA. Among those revisions was the inclusion of design standards. Chapters 2, 4 and 7 of the DOJ’s 2010 ADA Standards include information on signage requirements, including what buildings and rooms need to have ADA-compliant signs and the features that bring a sign into ADA compliance.


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

Section 703 of the ADA Standards discusses the rules and requirements for ADA signs. Generally speaking, 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 outlined 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.

Visual Signage - if pictograms are part of the signage, the image should be at least 6" tall


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.

If pictograms are part of 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.


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

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.


If your business provides “goods and services” to the public, it is a public accommodation and needs to comply with the ADA’s rules and standards. 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.”

Does my building need to be ADA-compliant?

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.

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


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 outlines 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:

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

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


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

For example, the signs on restrooms 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 need to be nearby directional signs nearby that indicate the location of the nearest accessible bathroom.

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

A good rule of thumb to follow when deciding 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. Another rule to follow is to use ADA-compliant signs, even if you aren’t sure you need them. Providing services anyone can use or benefit from is just good business sense.


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

The attorney general might also decide to intervene in the private lawsuit and bring a civil action against your business if they believe a lack of compliance indicates a pattern of discrimination.

As of 2014, it’s possible for a business that violates ADA standards to have to pay a penalty of $75,000 for the first violation. For any subsequent breaches, 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.



Installing ADA-compliant signage at your place of business is one of the simplest ways to remove barriers and to help make your company more inclusive and accessible. If you’ve noticed some of your signs aren’t entirely in compliance with the ADA’s standards, SpeedPro Cleveland West 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, our team is m is available to answer them.

Contact us today to get started transforming your business into a company that’s genuinely inclusive and welcoming to everyone.


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Jeff and Lori Kolenich