Creating ADA-Compliant Signage that is Functional and Beautiful
2014 July Whitepaper
When the Americans with Disabilities Act—a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability--was enacted into law in 1990, it had a dramatic impact on businesses. One of the most visible ways ADA took effect was the mandate that all signs that were considered an “architectural sign”—a sign that denotes a permanent space or informs or directs to accessible features of a facility—must comply with the ADA standards created by the American National Standards Institute.
And the standards are exacting; ADA signs must adhere to rules about the type and size of the font, color contrast between the text and its background, glare of the sign material, placement of the sign and the inclusion of Braille. Many sign designers wither under these strict criteria and churn out boring, nondescript ADA-compliant signs that are forgettable and do nothing to build a business’ brand or improve the overall appearance of a space.
But designers do not have to compromise style for function. This white paper provides some useful tips for creating ADA-compliant signs that really inspire.
Make Materials Matter
When selecting the sign substrate material for an ADA-compliant sign, the thing to keep in mind is that the material’s glare must be minimal. Beyond that guideline, the sky’s the limit! Designers can experiment with virtually any type of material, from rustic wood to corrugated steel to high-end granite.
Another option to keep in mind is that only the part of the sign that bears the wayfinding direction must adhere to ADA guidelines. Designers can keep that portion of the sign very simple and affix it to a more interesting background. For example, the frosted glass portion of this office identifier plate is affixed to a more sophisticated brushed aluminum plate.
Instead of being limited by required elements, such as Braille, raised text or the required contrast between text and background, use them for inspiration and incorporate them into a sign’s design. For example, this basketball-focused facility got creative with the required images used to denote a handicapped-accessible men’s restroom.1
High contrast between the text and its background is not only an ADA requirement, but an appealing design element. Long before Goethe created his Theory of Color in 1812, artists have intuitively recognized the value of using high contrast between colors to enhance the dramatic effect of pictures and the legibility of text. Arthur and Passini’s 1992 book Wayfinding took this inherent understanding about color and quantified it by creating an equation that assigns a number to the contrast between two colors. The formula is based on the light reflectancy (LF) readings in percentages between the two colors:
>[(Lighter color – darker color)/ lighter color value] X 100 = color contrast value
When the color contrast value is 70 percent or greater (the ADA recommendation), legibility is assured.2 But more importantly, high contrasting colors get noticed and add vibrancy to your suite of signage.
Regardless of whether the ADA sign leads to the boardroom or the bathroom, all visual communications provide a powerful opportunity to build a business’ brand identity. There are many ways to communicate brand while still following ADA guidelines:
- Color scheme: Most brands have a color palette from which designers can choose. And chances are that existing within that palette are colors with a contrast value high enough to be ADA-approved. Choose brand-supported colors whenever possible.
- Font: The guidelines for ADA-approved typefaces are strict, but that does not mean that designers cannot find a font that still speaks to the brand’s trademark font. For example, if a business’ standard font is decorated with serifs, opt for the same font, but sans serifs.
- Logos: Business can never put their logo in too many places. There is no reason why an ADA sign cannot also bear a business’ logo, and in fact, by not including the logo you miss out on a valuable opportunity.
ADA required signage should not be a burden, but an opportunity for businesses. By infusing a facility’s suite of signage with creativity and brand identify, ADA signs become a valuable tool to communicate with customers.
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