The Final Review

ADA Exit Door Signage Requirements: What is Wrong with This Picture?


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has precise requirements for the signs that must be displayed at exit doors. However, we frequently see violations of the exit sign requirements during our accessibility compliance reviews and site inspections. See if you can find the violation of the ADA’s requirements in this picture:


Where to Find the ADA Exit Door Signage Requirements

The ADA’s signage requirements for exit doors are part of the ADA’s broader sign requirements.The 2004 ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), created by the United States Access Board, are incorporated in the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design, the rules implementing the ADA. ADAAG contains the scoping and technical requirements for new building construction and alterations covered by the ADA.

ADA Exit Door Signage Requirements

ADAAG § 216 specifies all the places the ADA requires signs to be placed. The following are some highlights of the types and locations of signs that are required.

  • To designate permanent rooms or spaces 
  • Identify the direction to or information about an interior space 
  • Show a means of egress
  • Identify accessible parking spaces
  • At accessible entrances unless all the entrances of a building are accessible
  • At accessible elevators if some existing elevators are not accessible
  • To designate accessible bathrooms and provide directions to accessible bathrooms when only a portion of the bathrooms are accessible 

There are some exceptions to these requirements. For example, signs are not required in temporary situations, meaning seven days or less.

The requirements for exit doors signs are included in the provision governing signs for means of egress. ADAAG § 216.4.1 specifies that there must be signs at doors to exit passageways, defined as the area “separated from the interior spaces of the building by fire-resistance-rated construction and that leads to the exit discharge or public right of way.” In addition, signs are necessary for exit discharge, the part of the “egress system between the termination of an exit and a public way,” and exit stairways.

ADAAG § 216.4.1 specifies that the signs at all exit doors must also include a tactile sign, meaning a sign containing raised characters and Braille lettering. Thus, such exits must have both visual and tactile characters. However, it is possible to have two separate signs, one that is visual and the other with tactile characters.

ADAAG § 703 contains the technical requirements governing tactile signs. There are specific provisions pertaining to the type of tactile characters (uppercase and sans serif) that must be used as well as character proportions, height, stroke thickness, and spacing. Also, such signs must also use Braille (Grade 2) and follow the specified requirements for dimension and position (below the corresponding text). Signs’ tactile characters must be a minimum of 48 inches above the finished floor or ground to the lowest tactile character’s baseline and a maximum of 60 inches to the highest tactile character’s baseline.

The tactile sign must be located on the latch side of the door. If there are double doors with only one active side, the sign should be placed on the inactive side. If both doors are active, the sign should be placed on the right of the right door. There are also requirements regarding signs for recessed doors, push doors as well as clear floor space near a tactile sign.

Visual signs must comply with a variety of requirements outlined at ADAAG § 703.5. For example, the character and background finish should be non-glare and there should be a contrast between the characters and background. There are also requirements for character proportions, height, and spacing.

Now take a closer look at the exit door:


The exit door in the original photo does have a visual sign indicating the exit. However, there is no required tactile sign next to the door handle. Given there is already a visual sign, a separate tactile sign would be sufficient. Here is an example of a tactile sign:


Be Aware of the Difference Between Local and Federal Requirements

It is important to note that some local jurisdictions do not require tactile signs at exit doors. Chicago, where we are headquartered, does not have a tactile sign requirement for exit doors. However, if exit doors do not have tactile signs, even if the local municipality does not require the tactile sign, one is in violation of the federal ADA requirement and can potentially be subject to a Department of Justice enforcement action.

At Burnham, we are available to conduct plan reviews for ADA and other code compliance. Please feel to Contact Us for a consultation.