Braille Signs For Business

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When Does the Law Require Businesses to Display Braille Signs?

In 1990, the American government declared failing to provide the mentally or physically disabled with sufficient access to be discriminatory and illegal. This measure came in the form of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law by George H. W. Bush.

One of the standards required by the ADA (in section 703.3 of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design) is Braille lettering to accompany signage.

As you can imagine, complying with the government is high on most businesses’ lists. Compliance is difficult, though, with so many signs designed for so many different purposes. Clearly, a sign that says the vending machine is broken doesn’t need accompanying Braille, right? But what about a sign that indicates you shouldn’t use a stairway because it’s under construction? What about businesses that are run out of people’s homes? What about menus, addresses, and bathrooms?

Image showing several sample office signs

Which signs, exactly, are legally required to have Braille?

In a nutshell, ADA-compliant signage is required in all public accommodations and commercial facilities. Naturally, this encompasses spaces like public libraries, hotels, restaurants and schools, but it’s also true in workplaces and businesses that are patronized by the public. (Technically, even the hair-cutting business run out of your home would fall under this requirement—see section 36.401, subpart b of the ADA Standards.) Download our ebook, Accessible Formats for Your Business

As for which signs within these public and commercial locales need Braille—that’s a matter of what requirements are already in place by other government entities. When agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) provide guidance on necessary signs, those signs should also be ADA compliant, in order to serve the widest possible audience in a public space or commercial facility. If you have a federally mandated sign (for instance when indicating emergency exits) then you may well be following the requirements of more than one agency.

Image showing a "Exit Stairs" sign in English, Spanish and Braille

Since exit signage is federally mandated by OSHA, it should also be ADA compliant.

Beyond where the signs should be located, the ADA sets out very specific requirements about how the sign itself must appear. Down to details as precise as 1/32nd of an inch, signs must have a specific finish, contrast, font, and pictograms. Even the mounting of an ADA-compliant sign is federally regulated, from the side of a door it is posted on to the distance of its centerline to the floor. Rather than learn all of these specifications, most building managers use templates and wizards to make sure their signs meet ADA requirements.

There are exceptions, however. According to section 216, menus are not required to have accompanying Braille, since it’s possible (however VERY impractical) for a restaurant employee to read options aloud to a visually impaired patron. Building directories, seat and row designations in assembly areas, occupant names, building addresses, company names, logos, signs in parking facilities, temporary signs, and signs not located in public use areas of detention or correctional facilities are all exempt as well.

If you want to learn more about Braille requirements around you, use the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, and your state and municipal guidelines. If you have trouble opening the linked document, download the latest version of Adobe Reader here. Learn more about accessible documents

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This post was written by Jeff Frcho

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