Regional Manager, APCO Signs
Many architects and designers have been asking for a resource on the "new" ADA guidelines for signage, the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, enforceable as of March 15, 2012 for new construction and renovations. There are a few great outlines and whitepapers available (SEGD!) that highlight the changes and updates. Before we get specific, let’s discuss the goal of the ADA: intent.
The intent of the ADA is to remove barriers for disabled people so that they have an equal opportunity to function in our society. Specifically, "…for newly designed and constructed or altered State and local government facilities, public accommodations, and commercial facilities to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities." (www.access-board.gov)
Code vs. Law
There is some confusion on what is code and what is law. ADA Standards are not building codes; they are requirements of design and construction covered by civil rights law. States can determine which codes they follow; for example, Pennsylvania still uses the 2009 Building Code except for accessibility standards. Additionally, codes are up for interpretation by local inspectors.
A number of federal, state and independent regulatory bodies have published guidelines that dictate several factors of sign design, construction, content and installation. Together, they regulate what we know as sign codes. Please note that, although these agencies have published regulations, your local municipality may require more stringent guidelines or may interpret those standards differently.
There are a few instances where compliant signs are required, but not often specified.
- Cubicles. Since fixed furniture systems are often in place for longer than the “temporary” time limit of 5 days or less, they are considered permanent spaces. If a sign is located on a cubicle, it should fulfill all of the requirements of ADA, including tactile copy and Braille. This can be achieved inexpensively with a tactile cubicle number (A01, for example) and a paper insert for the occupant name.
- Stairwells. In a structure with 4+ levels / floors, there are 3 signs required at each stairwell (2012 IFC).
- Corridor-side Stair ID: This sign should identify the stairwell and whether it is an exit with tactile copy and Braille.
- Stairwell-side Floor ID: This sign should identify the floor level with tactile copy and Braille.
- Stairwell-side informational sign: This sign should identify the stair ID, roof access, the current level, levels the stair serves and the level of discharge.
- Please note that many inspectors believe the stairwell-side informational sign is required to have tactile copy and Braille, per 2009 IFC. 2012 IFC clearly dictates that these are two separate signs.
- Private companies and offices. If a sign is located at offices inside a standard office space, it is required to comply with the ADA Standards, including tactile copy and Braille. Not only is the ADA involved with this to reduce barriers, but also equal opportunity employment laws.
Standardized regulations have been instituted for the safety of the general public and to reduce barriers for those with disabilities. These standards were put in place to help first responders navigate a facility to quickly respond to emergencies (logical room numbering), to help building occupants navigate and exit in case of an emergency (life safety signs, directional signs along egress pathways), to help those with visual impairments find their way throughout a facility (tactile characters, Braille, and adequate contrast), to help drivers read information quicker and easier to avoid accidents (exterior sign placement, character height, font, and color contrast), to remove barriers for those in wheelchairs (mounting height of signs) and to better communicate in our multi-lingual society (standard symbols and icons). There are many more, but these examples should help to illustrate the importance of instituting code compliant signage in your facility. Additionally, I am often asked if only public spaces are required to follow code. Reference Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and you will learn that those with disabilities cannot be discriminated against in the workplace due to their disability, in private or government sectors.
While a Fire Marshal or inspector may not require compliant signs for occupancy permits or other inspections, an organization may be liable for a lawsuit from an individual who feels that they are being discriminated against. Also, considering the safety implications, it is in everyone’s best interest to do what we can to provide safe and accessible environments for employees, patients, customers and visitors.
Ultimately, if an organization does not have complaint signage, they become liable for discrimination. As of March 28, 2014, an organization can be liable for a maximum civil penalty of $75,000 for the first ADA violation and $150,000 for each subsequent violation.