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ADA Formula For Success

Understanding ADA and its relationship to the sign industry.

By Johnny Duncan wants to provide our visitors not only facts and figures they can rely on to succeed in their sign business, but to also provide simple explanations that are quick and informative. Within the Formula For Success features you will find fast tips and success stories that you can put to use today. These are stories and information from your industry peers who have “been there, done that”!

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  • While it is difficult enough trying to comply with all the many government regulations and laws put in place to “guide” the business person, the confusion most of us face trying to interpret these regulations can be overwhelming. One of the many obstacles many sign business owners must deal with is complying with the ADA requirements. There are many publications available both in print and on the Web that address the requirements for ADA signage. However, there is not much out there to help the sign business owner interpret these regulations and help to sift through the confusion and assist with clarification.

    Fortunately, we have a resource that understands ADA and its relationship to the sign industry. Sharon Toji is that resource. Ms. Toji has many years of experience in the sign industry and in ADA regulations. She has worked with the ANSI Task Force in the construction of ADA requirements and has been a major influence in the sign industry to try to bring the ADA requirements into simple, clear terms for those working in the sign industry. Ms. Toji was kind enough to provide (SI) with answers to questions we are often asked. The following is the correspondence we had with Ms. Toji:

    SI: I understand that you were on the ANSI Sign Task Force from 1992 to 1998. You were also one of four principle authors of the original draft of the sign section which went before the entire committee. This document is virtually identical to ANSI 1998 in the sign section. With this experience behind you and your work with ANSI, where do you see the sign industry in relation to ADA regulations? Are we as an industry confused about what is required?

    Ms. Toji: Of course there is a lot of confusion about what is required, but that is not entirely the fault of the sign industry. Sign fabricators usually take their instructions from designers and architects, or even the company receptionist who has been instructed to order signs. Sign professionals who question the specifications they receive may be treading on professional egos. People in the sign industry need to be very clear about the standards and guidelines and they need to know the reasons behind them so they can suggest the best alternatives when the architecture of older buildings makes following those standards impractical. Then they may be able to make a case with designers and other specifiers.

    SI: Are there still some gray areas that sign business owners need to be aware of?

    Ms. Toji: There are few gray areas in the sign standards themselves. Contrast and glare are open to judgment. Pictogram and symbol sizes and installation heights are not specified. The quantity and location of path of travel signs is somewhat open. There is also some question about tactile numbers to identify apartments and apartment-like condominiums. Most judgment calls have to do with installation. Older buildings, particularly, abound in “gray areas.” There are doors with no space anywhere near them for tactile signs. There are lockers and medical equipment projecting much further than 4 inches from walls, so that signs are unapproachable. There are fire alarm pulls right where the signs should go. Installation is a constant decision making process and requires an in-depth knowledge of the reasons behind the standards and guidelines.

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    SI: I know that you are in touch with the Access Board and the DOJ. How can the sign business owner today stay on top of the latest developments for ADA related standards?

    Ms. Toji: For those who can access the Internet, both the Access Board and the DOJ have web sites which provide the latest news. The Access Board has a newsletter they will send out. There are some technical aids available to download. I have links to these and other helpful sites on my web site at However, these resources cover the entire Americans With Disabilities Act, and there is not a lot of specific material about signs. To be frank, I don’t know of any other resource that covers accessible signage in as much depth as I do. Various manufacturers of tactile signs or materials used to make tactile signs do have brief summaries of the ADA guidelines. Some of them are excellent and very factual. Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis has a good “how-to” manual for engravers.

    SI: If a sign company wanted to bid on a contract to provide ADA signs for a client, but has never ventured into this type of business before, what is the first step he or she should do to acquire knowledge in this area?

    Ms. Toji: If the contract already stipulated the fabrication method for the signs, specifically for the Braille and raised character signs, the first job would be to find out if the capability could or should be acquired in house, or if the signs should be ordered from an outside vendor. Assuming the first job might come from an outside vendor, I would get samples from the vendor and have someone knowledgeable check the quality of the work, particularly the readability and spacing of the Braille and the raised characters. If a sign company is interested in turning out a quality product, they must be aware that the quality of the tactile material is vital to the readability of the signs. Appearance, to a person who is blind, is in the touch.

    SI: Are there associations or out sourcing alternatives that a sign business owner can turn to provide ADA related training for his employee?

    Ms. Toji: At one time I talked with the International Sign Association about providing some sort of standardized training materials and workshops, with an eye to an industry issued certificate. Many other industries and professions do something similar. I thought that perhaps the two major sign associations, the engravers’ association and the SEGD could join together to do this. However, the idea didn’t go anywhere. The ISA used to have me give a workshop at each sign show, but is no longer doing that. I have often been asked to come up with my own training and certificate, and would do so, given the time and funds. I think something is badly needed. I am always available to entertain a proposal to come to any location to provide such training. I have done so for various groups in the past, including 3M Graphics Division in cooperation with the SEGD chapter in Chicago. I have also written training manuals, for building inspectors and for 3M method fabricators.

    SI: If a client contracts with a sign company to provide ADA signs, who is liable if the products are not ADA compliant?

    Ms. Toji: The original understanding was that the building owner is the party of responsibility. However, the Department of Justice did bring a case against an architect and a building contractor. I believe it was appealed. The fact is, though, that if a sign company neglects to inform a building owner, through the owner’s representative, that specified signs are not compliant with state codes and with ADAAG, and the owner is sued, the owner would possibly in turn sue the sign company, or at least demand replacement signs. It is certainly always good practice to notify the building owner, or at least the specifier, in writing if you think proposed signs are not compliant. I think we need to be the sign experts, and not expect that our clients know as much about signs as we do.

    SI: Ms. Toji, thank you for your cooperation. Would you like to leave our readers with any further advice concerning this sometimes confusing area of ADA standards and regulations?

    I think that anyone who is in the sign business needs to understand the function of signs in advertising, in wayfinding, as information and for safety and regulation. They need to believe in signs if they are going to design them, make them, and sell them! If they are going to provide wayfinding signs and signs pertaining to access, then they need to believe in those too. That means having quite a bit of knowledge not just about the standards and guidelines for those signs, but also knowledge about how people, both with and without a variety of disabilities, use signs to get around buildings. It means understanding something about communications impairments and how those impairments impact ability to read and understand signs. It means understanding wayfinding principles. With that knowledge and understanding will come the ability to design, make and sell high quality “ADA” signs.

    We would like to thank Ms. Toji for her time and we invite any of our readers to send further questions concerning ADA to

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