Q. Do all the signs need braille?
A. No, because people who can't see at all would not have any way to find most of the signs. Besides that, some signs would be too high for them to reach, or too far away and behind some kind of obstacle like a counter.
The only signs that require braille are signs that are located at doors that they identify, or the signs that label elevator buttons or floor levels.
Q. What is the purpose of the raised letters and numbers on signs?
A. Those are for the majority of people who aren't able to see to read, because the majority of them don't read braille. If you become blind suddenly, or become blind when you are fairly old, you probably won't be able to learn braille, or at least learn it very quickly, and you are usually familiar with the shapes of letters and numbers.
Q. If people who are blind can't read the directional signs, how do they find their way around in unfamiliar buildings?
A. The majority of people who are legally blind do have some usable vision. If you use all the rules for visual signs, such as the rules for good contrast between the letters and the background of the sign, and make the signs large enough, with a non-glare finish, many legally blind people can read them. We know that many people like some kind of audible directional information, and luckily, most people who travel independently now do have smart phones and there are an increasing number of programs they can use for audible wayfinding. However, it's still a problem for many blind people and we search for good answers all the time. Of course people who are blind and travel independently have developed many ways of doing so over the years, without using signs.
Q. When you have two sets of ID on a sign, like a room number and a room name, do you place the braille below the matching text?
A. No, the Standards say specifically that you place ALL the braille below the lowest line of raised text. People don't read alternate text and braille. Most of them read either the raised text or the braille, and it is confusing to alternate the lines. In California the maximum distance between text and braille specified is 1/2 inch. That is "best practice," and we recommend it for signs in every state, even though the Access Board only lists a minimum distance of 3/8 inch.
Q. Is there a right or wrong numbering scheme according to the ADA, for numbered rooms?
A. No, and numbering is best approached as both an art and a science! The one thing to avoid, if you want the numbering to be helpful, especially to people who are blind, or to people like First Responders who need fast access to rooms where there may be an emergency in progress, is to have a logical scheme and stick with it. You can have one side of the corridor use even numbers and the other side odd, or you may have them consecutive and then make a "U-Turn" at the end of the corridor. Rooms inside rooms should usually have the same number as the main room, followed by a letter. Paul Arthur says that it is sometimes best to consider a building to be like a city center, with streets and avenues, if there are many corridors branching off. But the best way to approach numbering is to imagine yourself in the building trying to locate a specific room and do it quickly and efficiently. Walk through the building, floor by floor, or follow the corridors on the printed plans, noting where you reach dead ends. See if it makes sense to divide the floor into sections. And remember to stick to normal conventions by starting the numbering system for each floor with the floor number.
Q. When a door looks as if will lead to an exit but the space is actually a patio or other outdoor space with no access to the public way, is "Not An Exit" the correct braille sign?
A. Although there is no specific rule on this, remember that if someone has no usable vision, they do not see the greenery that would lead a sighted person to imagine it might be an exit. To them, it is just another door. So, the best tactile sign would identify the space correctly, such as "Patio," "Atrium" or "Garden." During an emergency, there is some possibility that the blind person might just read the word "Exit" and become trapped in the space. Identifying it correctly avoids that. For a sighted person, you could add a visual only informational sign above the tactile sign, with the words "Not an Exit," or a directional sign to the nearest exit.
Q. Why do you maintain it's unsafe to put an arrow on a tactile "Exit Route" sign with braille, and place it along the corridor, directing to an exit?
A. It could be dangerous because the tactile sign indicates to the blind person that it is identifying a door. Even if a blind person understands the arrow symbol, the sign doesn't say how far it is to the final exit door, so they may believe it indicates the next door leads to an exit. If they are wrong, and it actually takes them into a trap, such as a large open office area with many desks and cubicles, they could wait too late to get out of a dangerous building, looking for an exit that does not exist.
Q. Does the government have an approved list of fonts to use for ADA signs?
A. No, but there are a few major rules to help you choose compliant fonts. First, always use sans serif uppercase fonts for all raised letters and numbers (which the rules call "characters"). For visual signs (with flat characters) it's best to use upper and lower case, which is legal, and you can use a serif font if you wish. However, never use what we call a "decorative" font. There are other rules as well. The easiest way to know if a font is correct is to use one of our templates, and print out a one inch "I" and a one inch "O" in the font you want to use, and
check it. To find the templates,
Frequently Asked Questions