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At long last, a new direction for the ADA Guidelines
. . .or maybe it’s functionality. This is a much more functional document than ADAAG. You can go easily from scoping for signs to the technical requirements for signs. An Occasional Newsletter Fall 2010
Yes, form should follow function, but in the “new” ADA/ABA, the form almost becomes the function.
Was it Worth the Wait?
Speaking just of signs, the new document points the way to readable, usable signs much more clearly than ADAAG did.
The New Math
Not much has really changed, but the sign rules have lots of additions and few subtractions. The additions include tactile exit signs and most signs for parking garages are out.
What’s Not There
There is still no specific guidance on the really important stuff: contrast and glare. We’ve even lost the guidance from the Appendix in the original ADAAG.
Lots of added detail about typestyles and spacing add quality to raised text.
The New ADA/ABA
We’ve had a very long time to look them over and become comfortable with them -- the “new” ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines. After all, they’ve been out there pretty much intact since 1998. Although the Access Board was careful to say “don’t touch, these aren’t legally defensible yet,” smart designers knew that very little in the new document violated any of the rules in the old, familiar ADAAG. Most of it was just what you would call “best practice.
Communications Subcommittee of the George W Bush, there were few ADAAG Advisory Committee appointed substantive suggestions for revisions to the signage section. The new appointees to the Access Board did trigger changes to the document, but they came, in terms of signage, in the form of condensation. A very long signage section that dealt with each aspect of accessible signage in step-by-step detail, became much shorter. Although the intent remained the same, a significant amount of clarity was lost, in my opinion. during the Clinton administration to make the first major revision of ADAAG, which went into effect in 1992, added scoping to the Standard, but other requirements suggested by some of the Working Groups were shot down before they ever reached the full Committee, or were eliminated by the Committee itself in the final version. During the two public hearings that took place prior to the presidential election that ushered in the regime of
What You’ll Need
Designers and sign companies that have educated themselves about the needs and wishes of persons with disabilities in terms of wayfinding won’t need to make many changes. They are already using only sans serif fonts for tactile signs, placing braille below the tactile letters, and leaving discernible space between characters so they can be easily read. Their (continued on page three)
Changes Since 1998
If you look at the document as it first appeared around 1998, it looks very much like the 1998 version of the American National Standards Institute’s 1998 version of A117.1. The
Access Communications • 2386 East Artesia Blvd • Long Beach CA 90805 • firstname.lastname@example.org • http://www.4adasigns.com
People who are deaf and hard of hearing do get a little nod in their direction. we name restrooms either by gender (Women. simple and consistent directional signs to help those who cannot easily ask for directions or understand or hear the answers? How about a consistent use of pictograms for restrooms. or who have mobility impairments. I actually find that two groups I represent officially are the most neglected by the ADA. money and architectural realities allowed. and even staff entrances. in the form of visual alarms. I saw accessible signage as an easy and inexpensive way for businesses and public agencies to demonstrate. They could get that message not only to those with vision impairments who needed to find destinations in their facilities. The same goes for “Faculty. However. As you specify signs. assistive listening systems and volume control phones. “bathroom break. and let’s get this new show on the road. Rules for high dark/light contrast and non-glare surfaces as well as appropriately sized text in easy to read typestyles are vital to universal design -. we don’t tell people we are going to the “toilet” when we excuse ourselves. Even signs that are directed toward people who are deaf and hard of hearing. even though there are design features and types of signage and communications that could help them with independent access. they don’t realize that just about every sign in the facility is an “ADA sign” and has requirements that would make it more readable and usable by people who have usable vision.4adasigns. in the most visible way. vertical access and information desks for those with limited reading skills. I was ready to show owners how they could communicate that they had plans to remove barriers as time. let me explain some of my pet peeves from ADAAG and Title 24 to you. but with people who had all kinds of disabilities Alas.” As a matter of fact.” (OK. That’s certainly what everyone who worked so hard on it over a period of more than 10 years had in mind! In the meantime.FROM THE EDITOR I can remember very well the enthusiasm and hope with which I began the series of newsletters I called “ADA Directions” back in the early days of the ADA.” (Oops -.” It soon becomes clear that what the person means is “braille and raised character signs. there are plenty of unsung heros out there who have kept the faith and now. People with cognitive impairments are ignored. Perhaps this new format will be easier for everyone to understand.is there really a bathtub in there?) 2 Access Communications • 2386 East Artesia Blvd • Long Beach CA 90805 • accesscomm@earthlink. Let’s face it folks. Boys). Even inspectors are foggy about the notion of the raised characters! What’s worse is. text telephones. we don’t live in France. Even sighted people in a hurry have been known to rush into the So how about taking just a little bit of wrong facility when the word “restroom” is added. Could you have found your way unassisted if you could not speak or hear? Let’s Talk Restrooms I have a real “thing” about restroom signs. concise. we have a new chance to convince the public that the ADA rules are not as impenetrable as they think. Girls. so you’re cute and say “little boy’s room” but we’ll ignore that.com . It’s all too easy for a blind person to quickly just read “restroom” and mistake the facility for a single user room. we just call it “Restroom. or if it’s a single user or family restroom. though. It’s the “restroom. staff lounges and lunchrooms. they were ready to provide as much access as possible.” And we only gum up the works when we lengthen the sign out to say “Women’s Restroom. that they believed in access for all and were starting out immediately on the path to barrier removal. think about the last large facility you visited for the first time.net • http://www. and that. in the meantime.design that benefits everyone. have these requirements. or just in a big hurry.” and so on. “ADA Signs” Are Not Just for Blind People! We still hear it every day in our business: “We need some ADA signs.) To keep things easy. I found that many others did not see it that way. Men. because we have staff workrooms. Therefore. for people who are blind. The intervening eighteen years has shown me how naive I was. they often don’t even realize that the raised characters are required. No. of every age and condition.” Sharon Toji “Staff” alone on a tactile sign doesn’t really tell us anything. And we don’t say we’re going to the “unisex” either. although public phones are so rare now it makes little difference. Let’s keep it that money we spend on hundreds of simple and consistent and make life unnecessary “wheelchair” symbols easier for everyone to take that and tactile text on directionals and throw in a few really well thought out.
many state building codes are not so well organized. for signs 80 inches or more above the If you are interested in other finish floor or ground. Start Learning Now Since 2004. that easier. especially if you are in California. distance is for reading the signs. with only a vague indicator of character size based on a requirement for 3 inch high characters well. since everything follows in a logical order. to study and help others understand the communications aspects of the law. More Emphasis on Visual Signs The original ADAAG gave short shrift to visual signs. are. Good practice will mean that some facilities may have signs placed lower than others. when the Access Board officially published the ADA/ABA Accessibility Guidelines. most of the changes will be in installation. you might see if there is any interest in installing the signs according to the new code. or use wheelchairs or walkers.net • http://www. The technical requirements for signs are in section 700. so scoping is scattered. 216. visit the scoping section. The emphasis is no longer on placing signs exactly 60 inches on center. and they don’t add unnecessary uppercase indicators to braille. as well as on the DOJ site. This exception will chiefly benefit hotels and apartment buildings. the major vehicle for communications in facilities. If you haven’t downloaded them before. do so now.ada. and it may also solve some problems in older buildings with limited room for sign installation. where schools are loaded with Access Board: http://www. they have been posted on their site. because it is organized on the basis of occupancies. Sign requirements are pretty much gathered in one place.accessSymbols of Accessibility every few board. for items such as ATM requirements and table that lays out appropriate sizes detectable warning surfaces. there is a to search other places as well. particularly in parking garages. elements to aid those who are blind and visually impaired in their use of That left everyone free to ignore architectural facilities. since those sign readers may be shorter in stature.4adasigns. of course.gov/ About Access Communications Our company was founded in the early days of the ADA. Signs. California’s seems to be an impenetrable tangle. 3 Access Communications • 2386 East Artesia Blvd • Long Beach CA 90805 • accesscomm@earthlink. Communications. Unfortunately. They already make tactile exit signs available. Even if you are forced to comply with older codes and approved building permits based on them. The point is to consider how close sign readers can realistically get to signs in order to read them. and start to incorporate them into your design and fabrication work wherever possible. there will be little that conflicts with those plans. and what the If jobs are still in the design stage. Although it’s not stated. you will have appropriate sign text for other visual signs.gov/ feet. where tactile signs are concerned. Just about everything you need to know about signs is in two sections of the document. Another long-awaited installation exception will allow some tactile signs to be placed on doors.com . Better placement alone few signs are scoped out in Section will provide more accessibility for 200. but on placing them so that the tactile information is reachable by the majority of blind readers. Reorganization is the Key Designers and fabricators used to having to pick through pages and pages of text for snippets of sign code should be delighted with the new layout. In the new document.” designers would be wise to consider the possibility of movable barriers and not just those that are fixed. There are new exceptions as DOJ: http://www.A D A D I R E C T I O N S Let’s play “Find the Elevator!” (continued from page one) braille is domed or rounded. Howfor signs based on on high they are ever. many users. To find out where signs are required. For these companies. The distance is based on barriers. and if the inspectors will You may be surprised to see just how allow that. and therefore is not “per code. 200. the new format makes all of placed on walls.
or “To Exit. or doors leading into exit stairwells. benefit from more information. These can be final exit discharge doors. especially during emergencies. and endanger them during an emergency.” that should accompany signs above doors leading from interior rooms to the final exit discharge or exit stair. it only points to the next door. doors leading to exit corridors.A D A D I R E C T I O N S Exits: The Last Word I wrote my first newsletter article on tactile exit signs very early -probably in 1993.” It was decided the confusion comes from the terms that people who were blind would Access Communications 2386 East Artesia Blvd Long Beach CA 90805 4 . and the new ADA/ABA Guidelines has them as well. although it’s just “Exit.” with nothing more. “Exit Route.” for rare horizontal exits. so other terms were added after the initial word “Exit. the California code requirements have created confusion Of course California seldom does anything by half. nothing really happened until the signs were added in state building codes. One study showed that only 20 percent of blind people tested knew what a tactile arrow meant. Most of simple term “Exit. The idea behind the signs is to give equal access to those who cannot see the large visual signs. so the Committee at about the signs that could actually the State Fire Marshal’s that worked slow things down for people who are on the code was not content with the functionally blind. The sign appears to identify a door. The tactile arrow does little good. So. use tactile exit signs only where they belong -. However. Architects try to use these as directional signs. However. California was one of the early states to catch on. and could lead a person to seek fruitlessly in a large office or storage room for an exit door that does not exist. since tactile exit signs weren’t explicitly required in state building codes. my last word is. and often it is not a door that leads to an exit. with tactile arrows. when it really doesn’t give any meaningful location. Their main function is to accompany illuminated or other large exit signs that identify exit doors. and place them along corridors. the requirement was pretty much ignored. Anyway. Of course there is usually a door nearby. After all. the Department of Justice made clear in one of its very first interpretive letters on signage that tactile exit signs were an ADA requirement.to identify marked exit doors. Unfortunately. Our company used to make them and donate them to projects. The arrow doesn’t tell you how far to go to the actual exit.” The International Code Council (ICC) has now also added tactile exit signs to the building code.
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