Does ADA Signage Help Direct the Blind?

Posted on: May 4, 2012

When talking with clients and stakeholders seeking to improve their facility’s wayfinding, many ask a similar question about the directional signs.  “Will there be Braille included on the directional signs?”

I like this question because it illustrates that most people want their wayfinding system to provide guidance to more than those with good vision.  Unfortunately, the answer “no” is not as uplifting.  And it begs the larger question, “Does ADA Signage Help Direct the Blind?”

You see, the ADA requires Braille only for the purpose of identifying ‘permanent’ spaces.  Determining what is a permanent space is somewhat subjective, but those familiar with the writing and intent of the law say two good rules of thumb are if a space is assigned a room number –or- if the contents of the room are attached to the floor, it is considered a permanent space.  This can be helpful for identifying rooms for blind or low-vision people, but does little to orient or guide them.  When a logical and sequential room numbering system is used as the permanent title of most rooms, this can at least help blind and low-vision people follow an ascending or descending room numbers like addresses on a street, but of course they will need to know the room number they are seeking.  To complicate matters, it is projected that less than 10% of blind people can read Grade 1 Braille.  Since signs are required to have Grade 2 Braille which is a more advanced, contracted version of Grade 1 Braille, an even smaller percentage of the blind are able to read the Braille on signs.  So, unfortunately while the ADA Braille signage requirements are well-intentioned, they actually do little to provide the blind with directional information.


So since neither directories and directional signs are required to have tactile and Braille, it raises the question, “How do we provide directional information to blind and low-vision people?”  In an effort to seek that answer, blind and low-vision people were asked what could be helpful to them for self-navigation.  As it turns out, with the advent of smart phones, many blind and low-vision individuals are turning to these devices for guidance and information.  Wayfinding apps, QR Codes and GPS (for outdoor applications) can offer navigational guidance.  In fact, there is currently an ongoing discussion in the blind and low-vision community about whether Braille is becoming an outdated means of communication with the emergence of other more intuitive, immediate options.  Still, some blind and low-vision people indicated that having a tactile map of an unfamiliar space can be helpful for them and low-vision individuals often mentioned providing large print with high contrast on a brochure for them.

Beyond these few options, there are others, but the bottom line for the purposes of this post is that providing equal access to directional information in buildings requires thinking beyond what is required by law and developing solutions that meet the unique needs of those who cannot see or see well.


Filed under: Wayfinding Associates Blog — admin @ 12:34 pm

Tactile star at the elevator…What’s it mean?

Posted on: April 23, 2012

You’ve probably seen the tactile star symbol on an elevator door frame (hoistway) next to a raised floor number as well as next to one of the floor buttons in the elevator itself and wondered what that is supposed to mean.  If so, you’re not alone.  Even design professionals that have read the law that requires this star have understandably come away with the wrong impression.

The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design states, “Floor designations complying with 703.2 and 703.4.1 shall be provided on both jambs of elevator hoistway entrances.  Floor designations shall be provided in both tactile characters and braille.  Tactile characters shall be 2 inches (51 mm) high minimum.  A tactile star shall be provided on both jambs at the main entry level.”

This appears to suggest that the tactile star is to identify the level of the building’s main entry, nothing more.  However, upon further investigation that is not case.  For example a large building has two public elevator banks, Elevator A and Elevator B.  Elevator A is at the main entrance which is on floor 1 at the front of the building.  Far away at the back of the building is Elevator B which is at the Ground Floor lobby entrance

When reading this law, I thought of the example above and was concerned that if the star highlighted floor 1 at Elevator B, in an emergency a person seeking to exit the building as quickly as possibly would get out of the elevator on floor 1 and have to walk the length of the entire building to find the main entrance/exit.  This concern prompted a call to the access board to determine whether the star was intended to simply identify the main entrance floor, or if its purpose was life-safety related and intended to identify the floor on which the closest accessible exit could be found.

It was confirmed that the intent was life-safety related and that the star should highlight the floor on which the closest accessible exit could be found.  However, it is suggested that when specifying these signs, to ask the fire marshal in charge, as his interpretation is often the final word.

Filed under: 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design — admin @ 10:17 pm

2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design

Posted on: April 16, 2012

The new 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design have gone into effect as of March 15, 2012.

You can view and download them here from the website.

These design standards are the long anticipated updates to the original 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines.  The new law seeks to improve upon and clarify the old document.

With regard to signage, there are numerous tweaks and changes compared to the old law’s requirements which will need to be heeded when implementing new interior and exterior signage.

In the coming days important aspects of the new law will be explored on this blog to heighten awareness of the law’s requirements and intents.


If you have specific signage-related questions about the law or other signage or wayfinding issues please feel free to ask and the answer will be shared here on the blog 🙂

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:53 pm

The Wayfinding Associates Blog is Live!

Posted on: April 16, 2012

Welcome to the Wayfinding Associates signage and wayfinding blog.  In this venue issues related to facility wayfinding and signage design, specification, compliance and management will be discussed along with the occasional mention of favorite destinations, events, restaurants, wines, beers and other pleasantries.  I hope you find it to be informative and occasionally entertaining.   If you have specific facility wayfinding or signage related questions or topics you would like to see discussed on this blog, just let us know.


Warm regards,

Scott Saunders, President

Wayfinding Associates


Filed under: Wayfinding Associates Blog — admin @ 11:35 pm