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ADA Sign

Making an ADA Sign

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) was initiated in 1992. It requires all public places (except government buildings and churches) to install ADA signage that include tactile lettering, Grade II Braille and in some cases, pictograms. For a better understanding, you should have a copy of the portion of the ADA regulation pertaining to signage.

You may download these pages here:

Although the entire document is very long, our interest is limited to the pages dealing with interior wall signage, Section 4.3. This document comes from the official government website for ADA compliance at This site has a great deal of information about ADA compliance for your business and information that will help you relay accurate information when selling ADA signage.

You can also call the government’s own ADA help desk with specific questions at 1-800-514-0301.

  • (16) Building Signage:
    • (a) Signs that designate permanent rooms and spaces shall comply….
    • (b) Other signs that provide direction to or information about functional spaces of the building shall comply….
    • EXCEPTION: Building directories, menus, and all other signs that are temporary are NOT required to comply.

Although the presence of such regulations is intimidating, don’t be discouraged about making ADA signs. Like many government regulations, these are more intimidating than difficult.

There are several criteria that must be met for a sign to meet ADA requirements:

  1. The required elements of the sign must be made of “eggshell, matte or other non-glare” materials. This does not mean there can’t be reflective materials used to make the sign more attractive, but the ADA portion of the sign must be of a non-reflective material. A glossimeter is used to determine the reflectivity of the material. Since few sign makers will have such a device , consult Rowmark’s product lineup for ADA compliant materials. By using the chart (Fig A), you can be sure your signs meet the requirements. Substituting other materials that look the same to the naked eye may or may not meet these requirements, so follow the chart recommendations carefully.
  2. It is required to have a contrast ratio of 70% between the tactile lettering and the background behind them. This means using dark letters on a light background or light letters on a dark background. This is to assist the visually impaired, but not totally blind person, to see and read the letters more easily. Please see Rowmark’s color contrast matrix for contrast suggestions. In short, the more contrast, the better. Once again, substituting materials that look the same to the naked eye may or may not meet these requirements, so follow the chart recommendations carefully.
  3. Size of letters is also specified. The thickness of the tactile lettering must be 1/32”. Letters shall be upper case. The smallest letter permitted in an ADA wall sign is 5/8” tall. The largest is 2” tall. Anything outside those dimensions is unacceptable. Hanging signs or projection signs follow a different set of regulations.
  4. The type style or font is also specified. Although you are not restricted to a single font, the type style family is very specific. Fonts shall be “sans serif” or “simple serif” in design. This means no italics, no scripts, nothing fancy and nothing exaggerated. Remember, this is something the blind should be able to follow easily using their fingers.
    Note: There is no restriction about other lettering, type styles, photographs or logos also being used on a sign, so long as the required text is present in a form that is not confusing and meets the necessary requirements.
  5. The type style has requirements beyond size and style. The dimensions of the characters are also important. The width to height ratio of the letter must be 3:5 and 1:1 while the up stroke width to height of the letter must be 1:1.5 to 1:10. These dimensions can be easily measured using a micrometer but fonts like Helvetica Medium and Futura Regular are generally accepted as meeting these requirements.

When fabricating an ADA sign, there are several elements that are involved:

  1. Base Plate: The platform everything else is attached to.
  2. Tactile Lettering: Letters that are raised 1/32” above the background of the sign. Rowmark ADA Alternative® is made in 1/32” specifically for this purpose and is available with and without adhesive.
  3. Braille: There are three types of Braille. ADA requires grade II Braille. This is a Braille that allows for contractions that greatly reduce the number of characters used. It is not a direct translation of letters (Grade I). Most engraving software offers a translation program for this purpose.
  4. Pictogram. A pictogram is an International symbol made in the same fashion as tactile lettering. Although pictograms are usually made with the same 1/32” gauge material as the tactile lettering, it is not required to be tactile. It is required to fit in a field that is a minimum of 6” in height. These are not required on all signs. Office signs, room numbers, etc. would not require pictograms. Restroom signs, phone signs, no smoking signs, etc. do.

There are several rules that govern the construction and design of ADA signage. These must be followed carefully. Click ADA Rules for a copy of the latest regulations.

  • Creativity in design: Although early ADA signs were very basic and lacked in design, the regulations were never intended to eliminate creativity, beauty, the use of photographs or other design elements provided certain rules are maintained.
  • Who is in charge of inspections? Local inspections of ADA compliance are left up to the local Building Inspectors of the community in which the signage is located. Some localities are much more restrictive than others. If at all possible, it is highly recommended that sign makers and designers meet with their local Building Inspectors and offer to work as a team to ensure compliance. Since many Inspectors have a limited knowledge of how ADA signs are made and may have a very limited understanding of the regulations themselves, so a cooperative effort can be beneficial for everyone. There are also Federal Inspectors hired solely for the purpose of ensuring compliance. They usually travel to places where complaints or lawsuits have been filed.


Base Plate: A base plate is the material directly behind tactile lettering, Braille and pictograms. It may be (but is not necessarily) the actual sign back that everything is attached to. The thickness, shape or size of the overall base plate is optional, so long as it is large enough to contain the necessary lettering, pictogram and Braille, and while offering enough space around the entire contents so that the text isn’t confused with whatever is around it. This means signs may be round, square, rectangles or other shapes. They may or may not be in frames.

The base plate upon which the actual lettering, Braille, and/or pictograms are placed must be a non-reflective matte finish and must not have any pattern to it that might distract from the lettering. Rowmark ADA Alternative is made specifically for this purpose and meets Federal requirements. Other Rowmark products may also be used as a base. Check the Chart in Fig. A for alternatives.

The materials recommended above as base plates may be cut using a safety saw or vector cut using a laser or rotary engraver. Thicker materials, such as 1/8” stocks, may require multiple passes when vector cut with rotary or laser engraver.

To cut a base plate with a rotary engraver:

  1. Obtain and mount a sheet of scrap plastic to the engraving table using table tape. It is very important this be securely mounted! Do not skimp on table tape.
  2. Using table tape, securely attach the material to be used as a base plate to the scrap plastic sheet.
  3. Ideally, an “end mill” cutter should be used for this purpose. End mills leave an edge that is perfectly perpendicular (no bevel). These work well as finished edges and fit neatly into frames. An alternative to the end mill cutter is a “parallel” cutter. These provide a similar finished product but are less aggressive. They are also easier to break. Caution should be used with should be used with either of these cutters, as they are extremely aggressive and if not adjusted properly, can be very dangerous. Always use safety glasses when working with these cutters. To reduce the breakage hazard, a .060” or .090” cutter is recommended. Adjust the cutter so it just barely passes through the thickness of the material being cut.

    Below is a conversion chart for depth settings:

View the rest of this document in the attached download.