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Signs and Things – Components

One of the most forgotten elements is signage. Basically it can be divided into three groups – permanent room signs, way-finding, and informational signs, but there are other types as well. Permanent room signs also have requirements for installation location with criteria for clear floor space in front. Height requirements have now been changed with the 2010 ADAS and is a range above the finished floor rather than a specific dimension. And for the most part, signs should be a non-glare finish. This is difficult to achieve with a metal finished sign even with a satin finish.

In general, signs have several components depending on the sign type, and you may need to use one or all depending on the specific requirements. There are also differing parameters on the font styles used within the sign depending upon whether it is a Visual or a Raised Character – very technical requirements which I will not be touching on but are required.

    • Visual Characters contrast from the sign background, and this is a light to dark contrast. Although it is not stipulated what ‘contrast’ specifically means, some industry standards define this as a 70% contrast.
    • Raised Characters are raised from the sign background a specific distance. These do not need to contrast to the sign background but if they are a minimum specified height AND contrast to the sign background you can substitute just these Raised Characters instead of having both Raised and Visual Characters. Makes sense to enlarge the Raised Characters and provide contrast since the words then are placed once. This is meant to be read both visually and by touch.
    • Contracted Braille is located under the Raised Characters and is also known as Grade II Braille. Braille does not need to contrast with the sign background since it is predominantly read by touch. Be aware that within California, the requirements differ for dot and cell spacing so California Braille should be specified for all projects within the state.
    • Pictograms contrast with the background of the sign similar to Visual Characters and have text descriptors below. These do not need not be raised but when required are to be in a separate field from the Raised Characters and Braille. Examples are the Men and Women Pictograms used on restrooms.
    • And last, Symbols which actually are a type of Pictogram, but I am differentiating it here since these do not need a text descriptor. Some examples are the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA), International Symbol of Access for Hearing Loss, and others including the No Smoking symbol. These contrast with their background but do not need to be raised.

California building departments are required to review signs in new construction or alteration projects. If it is just a barrier removal project without a permit you would still follow the requirements although a permit review is not required. And be aware that replacing existing signage with those having Braille and Raised Characters is considered within the second order of priority under Barrier Removal by the Department of Justice. This is a relatively easy fix for existing buildings and makes the facility more accessible for the visually impaired. So consider replacing existing signs to meet today’s standards even if you are not planning on any construction!

Be aware that your local City or County may have additional requirements that are more restrictive than the State or Federal requirements. Also, this article is an interpretation and opinion of the writer. It is meant as a summary – current original regulations should always be reviewed when making any decisions.

© 2013 Janis Kent, Architect, CASp