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Frequently Asked Questions

Restroom Signs

At the office where I work, the women's bathroom has a sign that just says "Women" on it. My manager says that the sign should say "Restrooms" or "Women's Restroom." What is the correct text to have on a restroom sign?

I am remodeling my offices in California, and I am confused by the Title 24 code regarding bathroom door signs. For a Men's restroom, the door should feature an equilateral triangle with 12" sides. For a Women's restroom, the door should feature a circle with a 12" diameter. But a unisex bathroom is supposed to have a sign with the circle and the triangle on top of each other – how am I supposed to fit a triangle with 12" sides inside a 12" circle – it will not fit!

I have been looking at the restroom signs at the mall where I shop, and they have a different wheelchair pictogram than the signs at my gym. Are there different symbols which are allowed? Who regulates these signs?

I have been looking at the Federal Code regarding interior building signage, and I am confused - this law seems to require that I have a tactile Exit sign in the bathroom. Is this really the case? Do you find that people really install Exit signs in a bathroom? Similarly, do we need tactile Exit signs at our exit doors (that have those illuminated signs)?

I want to put a sign on my Men's restroom. There is a ramp leading from the door down to the floor of the bathroom, which is about 2 feet lower. Should I use the wheelchair graphic in conjunction with a "ramp" graphic, or does it have to be by itself in order to display accessibility and comply with the standards?

What is California Braille? Is all Grade 2 Braille suitable for California?

I work at a small store where we are installing a sign on our bathroom. I want to use adhesive tape. But I am wondering how I am supposed to install a sign. Are there any laws about how I am allowed to mount the sign?

Are there alternative pictograms for the typical Men and Woman symbols?

I am looking around the internet for a Boys' room sign for the elementary school where I work, and I see a wide variety of different Girls' and Boys' pictograms, ranging from pony tails on girls to infant graphics. Are there any standards for Boys or Girls graphics, or for any pictograms for that matter?

When can we get away with just a standard [non Braille] restroom sign? Does every Men's room sign require the Braille dots? I am ordering signs for our church.

When should we use a bilingual Men's or Women's room sign?

I can see that you offer both "Ladies" and "Women" bathroom signs. How do I decide which one to use?

 Restroom Signs

Roger
Phoenix, AZ

At the office where I work, the women's bathroom has a sign that just says "Women" on it. My manager says that the sign should say "Restrooms" or "Women's Restroom." What is the correct text to have on a restroom sign?

Interestingly enough, this is a very common question – and one that it best answered with a bit common sense. Let's start by admitting that there is no definitive legal framework for deciding what text to put on your restroom sign. Traditionally, though, there are some generally accepted guidelines to maximize accessibility for everyone, including those who have diminished visual acuity or are blind.

• For a single-user bathroom (that can be used by either men or women), the text should say "Restroom," or, "Family Restroom." The gender pictograms can be included.

• For a multiple user, single-sex restroom, the sign typically says "Men" or "Women." We avoid putting "Restroom" after the gender to avoid causing confusion for a touch-reader who only reads "Restroom" - and thinks the facility is a single user restroom that they can use. It might be a "Men's Restroom" – i.e. a multiple user restroom for the opposite sex.

The legend, "Restrooms," is used only when there is a door or passage that leads to more than one restroom, usually separate men's and women's rooms, and these facilities will be identified appropriately according to their layout. Now that we have this straightened out, I'll let you handle your manager.

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Ben
Pikeville, KY

I am remodeling my offices in California, and I am confused by the Title 24 code regarding bathroom door signs. For a Men's restroom, the door should feature an equilateral triangle with 12" sides. For a Women's restroom, the door should feature a circle with a 12" diameter. But a unisex bathroom is supposed to have a sign with the circle and the triangle on top of each other – how am I supposed to fit a triangle with 12" sides inside a 12" circle – it will not fit!

While the regulation is confusing, and we hear this question a lot, the answer is surprisingly straightforward. The unisex door sign should have a 12" diameter circle as its base, and the triangle shrinks to fit inside it. The sides of the equilateral triangle end up as about 10.39". Remember that the shapes are each made independently and then are layered to create the finished sign. A unisex bathroom door sign should have two, separate, ¼" thick shapes or plates stacked on top of each other. And these shapes should have colors which contrast with each other, in addition to their contrasting with the door. This is to ensure clear visibility for those who have limited vision.

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David
Kent, CT

I have been looking at the restroom signs at the mall where I shop, and they have a different wheelchair pictogram than the signs at my gym. Are there different symbols which are allowed? Who regulates these signs?

Yes, there are two symbols in common use. They are the ISA and the SEGD.

ISA handicap symbolSEGD handicap symbol
ISASEGD


We prefer the SEGD pictograms, and, at least for us, this pictogram is more common. The older ISA figure seems to be fading in general use.

The International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA) "stick-figure," is shown in the Federal ADA standards. It was originally supposed to be a wheelchair itself. And – its original intent was not to represent a person in a wheelchair! This comes as a surprise to almost everyone who has seen the symbol. The round shape at the top of the chair, to some, appears to be a head.

The other pictogram in the common signage vernacular is known as the "SEGD pictogram." It is similar to the "Male" and "Female" pictograms that are seen on restroom signs all over the world. This SEGD pictogram was developed in response to the ISA "stick-figure" pictogram, and was drawn so that it would specifically match with other widely used pictograms. Most felt that the ISA figure was not well designed, and, to some, even misguided. Some felt that the wheelchair symbol should show a more active figure. Disabled individuals are on the move, often athletic, and a static chair symbol was felt to be unbefitting.

The SEGD figure, however, has not yet been recognized by the ANSI committee that oversees the pictogram design specifications ... so there remains some controversy about its use. Ultimately, it is up to the building owner to decide which symbol they want to employ. We find that most people prefer the SEGD wheelchair pictogram when it is used in conjunction with gender pictograms. The pictograms "match" stylistically – their line widths, spacing and body styles are consistent.

In practice, and in our experience, we have yet to find an inspector that objects to the use of the SEGD pictogram. But at the end of the day, the choice of which pictogram to use is up to the building's management.

If you want to substitute the ISA "stick-figure" pictogram for a sign we now show with the SEGD pictogram – please contact us and we will gladly use the ISA pictogram for your sign.

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Mary Pat
St. Cloud, MN

I have been looking at the Federal Code regarding interior building signage, and I am confused - this law seems to require that I have a tactile Exit sign in the bathroom. Is this really the case? Do you find that people really install Exit signs in a bathroom? Similarly, do we need tactile Exit signs at our exit doors (that have those illuminated signs)?

In reviewing the federal accessibility and signage codes, it is always important to remember the actual intent of the law. The purpose of an Exit sign is simple: to help you find your way out in an emergency. There are really two kinds of Exit signs, Directional and Doorway.

• Doorway exit signs are posted at actual exits, or stairs or ramps that lead to exits.

• Directional exit signs are posted in hallways or large spaces, and give directions to the nearest exit.

Illuminated or photoluminescent Exit signs which lead to an exit, but not those in a hallway or other directional Exit signs, should be accompanied by a tactile Exit sign. Associate evacuation passageways, stairs, and exit doors with both tactile and visual exit signage. Illuminated or photoluminescent signs marking exit doors should be accompanied by a tactile sign. In hallways or large spaces, other illuminated or photo-luminescent signs that just point to the way out do not need a tactile sign. In a hallway, in fact, a tactile sign may actually confuse a visually impaired person, and leave them thinking that a closet or other interior door along the hallway is an exit.

(1) So, here is the answer to the first question: tactile Exit signs are generally not used for Bathroom doors. In a bathroom, usually the way you came in is the way you will go out. There is not really any reason to put a tactile Exit sign in the restroom – it will only lead to confusion.

(2) Then, let's move onto the question about Doorway exit signs and have a chance to debunk a common bias here: if people who can see well deserve some help finding the correct door ... why not provide the visually impaired the same benefit? Thus, for doorway exit signs, we recommend tactile signage.

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Robert
New York, NY

I want to put a sign on my Men's restroom. There is a ramp leading from the door down to the floor of the bathroom, which is about 2 feet lower. Should I use the wheelchair graphic in conjunction with a "ramp" graphic, or does it have to be by itself in order to display accessibility and comply with the standards?

You can use the wheelchair graphic in conjunction with a ramp graphic. In fact, we think that it is quite intuitive to do so when it is appropriate. But just remember - use good judgment when deciding what signs to install. We only recommend installing a "wedge" ramp graphic below the wheelchair pictogram when there is actually a ramp in that area. But, there is no regulation about this except that accessible restrooms must display the wheelchair pictogram.

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Judy
San Jose, CA

What is California Braille? Is all Grade 2 Braille suitable for California?

California Braille is a spacing and dot height standard which is different from the Library of Congress standard Braille spacing. It has nothing to do with translation or meaning, like the distinction between contracted (Grade 2) versus standard (Grade 1) Braille. All signs are written in Grade 2 Braille. In California, Grade 2 Braille specifications for spacing and height were modified specifically for signs. Designed by a leading expert (who is, in fact, blind), the California spacing was calculated to be easier to read. Beginners and elderly people, who have less training in Braille or less sensitive fingers, could still read the simple text on signs (such as "Male" or "Exit" or "203") and find the right door.

The California Braille standard is legal in 49 other states too. There are no federal regulations on spacing and dot height in conflict with the California standard. All of our ADA signs are made with California Braille, and we strongly recommend using this standard for your signs.

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Jeannie
Kearns, UT

I work at a small store where we are installing a sign on our bathroom. I want to use adhesive tape. But I am wondering how I am supposed to install a sign. Are there any laws about how I am allowed to mount the sign?

In general, adhesive strips or backing are used to mount signs. When a frame is used, the sign is mounted with adhesive to the frame, and the frame is then attached to the wall with screws. In some cases, adhesive is used to attach the frame as well. Our frames come with an "attachment kit." This kit includes both adhesive strips and screws. That way, you can use either technique.

In some facilities (schools for example), tampering and vandalism are concerns. In these cases, we recommend that you mount the sign directly to the wall with screws. Order your sign pre-drilled with holes if you want to use this mounting option.

In other facilities, damage to sensitive walls from the adhesive is a concern. Here, we recommend using a back plate – which then screws into the wall. The sign then adhesively mounts to this back plate, thereby protecting the wall.

In short, there are many options for mounting a sign. They are all legal, and the best choice really depends on your functional and aesthetic requirements.

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Brad
St. Paul, MN

Are there alternative pictograms for the typical Men and Woman symbols?

There is no legal set of pictograms defined by the federal or state governments for restroom signs. The common "Man" and "Woman" gender pictograms that you see everywhere are called DOT pictograms. They were standardized by the US Department of Transportation (e.g. the "DOT"). Most restroom signs use these DOT pictograms.

For the visually impaired, however, there are sometimes concerns that the Woman and Man pictograms look too similar at a distance. Alternative designs have been offered by several people. But none of these designs (other than the California Title 24 designs) seem to have developed legs. They have not developed a following; the DOT pictograms predominate.

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Troy
Naples, FL

I am looking around the internet for a Boys' room sign for the elementary school where I work, and I see a wide variety of different Girls' and Boys' pictograms, ranging from pony tails on girls to infant graphics. Are there any standards for Boys or Girls graphics, or for any pictograms for that matter?

Look over the answer above. For boys' and girls' bathrooms, we like to offer a different pictogram for several reasons. Many schools and day-care facilities have built child-friendly bathrooms with lower toilets and sinks. It makes sense to distinguish these from full-size bathrooms made for adults, and the easiest way to do this is with unique pictograms. All our girl and boy pictograms are legal - pictograms are not standardized by the government

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Elizabeth
Haverhill, MA

When can we get away with just a standard [non Braille] restroom sign? Does every Men's room sign require the Braille dots? I am ordering signs for our church.

Let me begin by saying that every Men’s room sign does NOT require Braille dots. In some states, religious institutions and private clubs are not regulated by accessibility standards. And, the federal guidelines do not impose any restrictions on these organizations.

Yet, most Men’s restroom signs are now ordered with Braille. Why? The real answer then depends upon your state. In many individual states, California, for example, there are laws which require religious buildings and private clubs to comply with accessibility standards. Most religious institutions want to be as welcoming as they can to everyone. Hence, they are usually ahead of the crowd in providing ADA compliant restrooms and building access, along with the requisite signs.

Another most important factor is the location of your tactile signs. You only need to have a tactile sign at your restroom door. Directional signs that point the way to a restroom do not need to be tactile. But you want to make sure that your directional signs are positioned effectively. They should be in a place where someone will not need to backtrack in order to get to the accessible restroom. So you want to place them at the point where people will decide which way to go – give them the information so that they can make the correct decision instead of guessing.

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Dean
Victor, NY

When should we use a bilingual Men's or Women's room sign?

This is one of those questions that really only you can answer. There is no regulation as far as federal or state laws which require or prohibit the use of bilingual signs. But you have to consider the people who will use the facilities when deciding whether or not you want to use a bilingual sign. Is another language the primary conversational language of employees or visitors?

Does the area feature Spanish newspapers or radio stations? Are there bilingual schools in the neighborhood? In these cases, you will want to at least consider using a bilingual sign.

Another thing to consider with bilingual signs is equality. You want to be sure that the bilingual signs you order do not feature one language much larger than the other. And you want to be sure that they do not offer drastically different messages. Obviously different fonts, colors, and terms are going to make the sign more effective, but the goal is to make both languages equally helpful to users.

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Rosa
Chula Vista, CA

I can see that you offer both "Ladies" and "Women" bathroom signs. How do I decide which one to use?

“Women” bathroom signs, like their “Men” counterpart, are much more common than “Ladies” or “Gentlemen.” But “Ladies” and “Gentlemen” retain some of their elegance and luxury appeal. So there are reasons why they remain in use. And this is the kind of decision where personal tastes can be a relevant and valid component. You have the freedom to choose the legend which will make sense for your facility on this issue. But we have seen that “Ladies” is becoming a more antiquated and less widely used term each day.

In fact, we recommend that people choose to use the legend, “Women,” instead of the less familiar “Ladies.” There are several reasons for this. Most importantly, the purpose of signage is to help people find the restroom, and using consistent terminology helps people who either do not know the language (tourists, recent immigrants, for example) or who have developmental disabilities such as dyslexia. Given the overwhelming popularity of the word, “Women,” it will be much easier to standardize around the terms, Women or Men – rather than “Ladies” or “Gents”.

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