|The New ANSI Standards for ADA
New standards enhance
Sharon Toji, Access Communications, for Signs of the Times Magazine
Late in 1998, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
published its new ANSI A117.1-1998 standards for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
signage. Also, the nearly identical federal ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) have been
presented for final comment. The final version is now being integrated with Title II
guidelines for state and local government facilities, the Uniform Federal Accessibility
Standards (UFAS) for federal facilities and fair housing standards.
So what does that mean? It means that the federal ADAAG have changed
very little since their 1992 inception (although individual states can and have adopted
more stringent standards), and, as of mid-January, ANSI A117.1 has the only final and
published changes for accessible buildings and facilities. In terms of signs, the new
standards enhance, rather than conflict with, old standards. Similarities between ANSI
A117.1 and ADAAG aren't surprising, because most of the same people worked on both
|ANSI 703.2.5 establishes these parameters for the
spacing of tactile letters.
Of course, real change at the local level will finally come when
states adopt new building codes based on the new ANSI or ADAAG, and when individual
building inspectors begin to apply the codes as they investigate new and remodeled
buildings. So do the new ANSI standards affect your ADA signs today? What guarantee is
there that the new, finalized federal standards will replicate ANSI?
We all know there are no guarantees when it comes to the Feds. But
because the new ANSI standards are like the old ones, yet even more clear and consistent,
you can begin using most of the new standards immediately.
In the few cases where the new standards conflict with the old, the
new ones often can be used in cases of equivalent facilitation, which will be addressed
shortly. This will provide better accessibility for many facilities and solve problems of
barrier removal in older facilities.
The new ANSI standards
|The centers of signs located near doors need to be
at least 9 inches away from the door frame.
The new standards for braille and raised-character signs, which
identify permanent rooms and spaces, focus on more readable tactile elements. Tactile
letters will be sans serif only, with no italics, oblique, decorative or
"unusual" styles. Character and stroke proportion are controlled, as is the
space between characters, and the space between text and braille (or other raised
elements). Raised text must be at the base of the text, which can be no higher than 60
inches from the floor.
Braille must have rounded or domed dots and be placed below the
text. For most braille text, the two dot-sixes used to show all upper-case letters will be
dropped. In cases where a sign is placed next to a door that opens out, the horizontal
center of the sign needs to be 9 inches from the edge of the door.
These specs were added because "minimums" often became
"maximums," and ambiguous suggestions were ignored. For example, the term
"simple" serif caused great confusion because it had no criteria; anything could
pass as "simple." Legitimate styles, such as Optima or Poppi, were classified as
sans serif anyway.
Tactile readers need classic character forms to distinguish
"A" from "R," for example. Serifs cause confusion, especially when
adjacent ones nearly touch. When spacing between characters is reduced, they become less
Similarly, bold, condensed characters are difficult to read; the
counters in "A," "O" and "R" can practically disappear.
Tactile readers need a slender character stroke, but not to the point of distortion.
The shape of the braille dot is important as well. Square, flat-top
dots can snag fingers and "cloud" the image of each cell. Those who read braille
signs are often inexperienced, and the rounded or domed dots assist them. Upper-case
letter indicators generally slow readers. Who cares if "restroom" is capitalized
The same style restrictions apply to a sign's visual components, but
serif typestyles and upper- and lower-case letters are fine. Letter-height limits are more
specific, based on the height of the sign and the distance from which it will be read. The
higher it is on the wall and the further away from the reader, the larger the text must
be. Specs for pictograms and symbols of accessibility remain essentially the same, but the
pictogram standards are more easily understood.
Visibility is the major concern. ADAAG said upper-case letters must
be at least 3 inches high when situated 80 or more inches above the floor, but didn't
specify any other installation heights. ANSI-1992 added some, but ignored viewing
distance. What good is an eye-level sign if the letters are small, and a counter keeps the
readers 10 feet away?
The 3-inch-high rule remains in effect, and a new chart addresses
signs from 40 to 120 inches high. The chart best applies to old buildings, such as a small
hospital with narrow hallways, in which 3-inch-tall letters aren't possible for all
|These ratios, designed to prevent extended or
condensed type, are intended to increase legibility of tactile letters.
This term comes into play when space problems or characteristics of
the intended sign's audience limit the effectiveness of normal standards. People who
frequent certain buildings may have limited reach or be confined to wheelchairs. The law
permits barrier removal in a problem-solving fashion.
Anyone who's attempted to replace an entire sign system in an older
building understands the frustration of not being able to put tactile signs on doors.
Sometimes, adjacent space just doesn't exist. For example, an old hotel may willingly
replace signs, but can't afford to refinish all the doors. Plus, they would argue that
their patrons are accustomed to looking for signs on the doors.
The new ANSI standards and the proposed ADAAG sometimes offer
relief. For example, a tactile sign may be installed on a door that opens inward, has an
automatic closer and no hold-open device. Most hotel rooms and apartments pass this test,
as do many restroom doors.
Why the turnaround? The ANSI Sign Task Force realized that, in the
above scenario, all its reasons for locating signs on the latch-side wall were invalid. A
door that opened inwardly couldn't possibly hit a reader in the face. Because the door
couldn't be propped open, it couldn't hide the sign. And although locating signs in the
exact same location in every building remains the ideal, it's impractical. Other options
might place the sign too far away to be effective. Placement on the door just seemed
Another location issue involves the 60-inch-on-vertical-center rule,
meaning the center of the sign should be at the 5-foot level. New standards will allow
tactile characters to be as low as 48 inches in, for example, nursing homes, independent
living centers and elementary schools. The 60-inch rule remains in effect, but now there's
a clear standard for equivalent facilitation.
Rounding things out
The new standards include two other important provisions that give
designers more options. Standards now provide for beveled or rounded tactile characters,
which are easier to read by touch than straight-side characters. They allow characters to
be closer together visually and permit bolder typestyles. The visual reader sees the
character from its base, while the tactile reader only feels the more slender top surface.
Other standards, based on the work of New York's Roger Whitehouse,
allow separate visual and tactile elements on identification signs. This "best of
both worlds" approach makes signs easier to read by both touch and sight, because the
visual text can be upper- and lower-case and reasonably bold. The tactile characters can
be even more vandal-resistant, because shiny metals or contrasting backgrounds aren't an
issue on the sign's tactile portion.
Clearly, the new ANSI standards offer more additions, refinements
and clarifications than actual changes. Even if we implement the new standards
immediately, where they won't directly conflict with ADAAG or state guidelines, the signs
probably will be more useful to people with disabilities than most current sign systems.
We also have the chance to design more creative, attractive signs that still meet