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

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.

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