ADA Compliance for Digital Signs

TecAccess founder Debra Ruh once said, “Accessibility allows us to tap into everyone’s potential.” Isn’t that really the point of your communications? You want people engaged, which means they have to be able to access the information you make available. Every single person who sees your digital signs is a potential customer or client, or a champion of your brand and organization. To create a more consumer-like experience, you have to take all kinds of consumers into account. And, of course, it’s also the law.

Title III of the 1990 American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is called Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities. Basically, any building that serves the public is covered under this. Title II covers state and local government facilities, and Title I covers employers of 15 or more people. So, no matter what type of organization you have, you must follow the guidelines.

The US Census Bureau says in the 2010 census that 19% of Americans had a disability. That number has almost certainly increased as the population gets older (and older people are far more likely to have a disability of some sort, with vision and hearing loss, and ambulatory difficulty being the most common).

The Cost of Non-Compliance

A surprisingly number of businesses are not ADA compliant. According to a report by Seyfarth & Shaw, in 2013 there were around 2700 lawsuits filed for ADA Title III non-compliance, and each year the number goes up – in 2018 there was a record 10,163 (which was a 34% increase from the previous year and over 370% from 2013). That’s a huge jump. This could mean that more businesses are being scrutinized for compliance, or it could mean that more people are filing suits because they’re tired of being left out.

Looking at 2018 filings by state, the top ten were:

  1. California (4249)
  2. New York (2338)
  3. Florida (1941)
  4. Texas (196)
  5. Georgia (160)
  6. Pennsylvania (129)
  7. Arizona (94)
  8. Massachusetts (91)
  9. New Jersey (82)
  10. Alabama (80)

The total cost to businesses for these lawsuits is estimated to be well over $200 million. The trend predicts that each year there will be more and more lawsuits against organizations that refuse to comply with ADA regulations.

One of the phrases from the ADA that gets talked about is a lot is “readily achievable. Basically, this means that if it is possible for you to make some aspect of your facility ADA compliant “without much difficulty or expense,” then you must do so, or you are in violation of the law. When it comes to your digital signs, it’s pretty easy and inexpensive to bring everything up to ADA standards.

Reasonable Accommodation

Another phrase that stands out is “reasonable accommodation.” This applies to any modification or adjustment that allows a disabled person to “participate in the application of process” in a way that is “equal to those…without disabilities.” Basically, everyone needs to be able to access the same information, though how they do this may vary. Your job is to supply the tools.

It’s obviously much easier to build compliance in when constructing a facility – if everything is ship shape from the very beginning, there’s nothing to adjust and no extra expense. However, if you already have a digital signage deployment in place, making a few modifications or adjustments should be pretty straightforward.

When thinking about your digital signs, you need to consider touchscreens and kiosks, screen enclosures, screen placement and video walls. You also need to evaluate your content – what you have available on your digital signs, as well as design policies.

Physical Considerations

The easiest thing to do is talk with your integrator. They will probably have a number of screens, mounts and kiosks that are certified ADA compliant. But if you want to do it yourself, here are the basics:

  • All screens must have a non-glare finish and 70% contrast between the background and the actual lettering in the on-screen messages.
  • If there is a numeric keypad, it must have the numbers in sequence, either ascending or descending order, and a raised dot on the #5 key. Any function keys must be visually different from the other keys. Any on-screen characters must have 70% contrast from the background and be at least 3/16 of an inch high.
  • Wall-mounted screen enclosures can only stick out a maximum of four inches from the wall. This can often be overcome by recessing the screen. Just make sure you have proper ventilation and heat venting in place, or the screen will not function properly. Thin wall mounts are also effective.
  • Digital signage enclosures must be 27-80 inches from the floor. Consider the actual flooring material when determining the right height – the regulations measure from the highest point of the flooring material. The ground space around the screen needs to be a minimum of 30 by 48 inches.
  • Video walls must also follow all of these guidelines. So, a video wall that’s 27-80 inches from the floor can stick out no more than four inches from the wall the component screens are mounted on.
  • For interactive digital signs, the touchscreen controls should be no more than 48 inches from the floor, and the reach should be no more than 10 inches.
  • Kiosks are great for wheelchair access, especially if they have a 15-20 degree upward slope. Some companies make adjustable-height kiosks that can be lowered or raised 10 inches.

It’s not just about wheelchair access. Some of these guidelines assist people with other disabilities as well. There are also other things you can do for the visually- or hearing-impaired:

  • Use voice-responsive technology for voice-operated screens.
  • Incorporate EZ Access devices to meet or exceed ADA guidelines.
  • Allow zoom for inputs and responses.
  • Employ tactile (haptic) responses to actions and changes.
  • Provide audio tones to signal responses to actions and changes.
  • Offer built-in speakers or a universal headphone jack, with volume control.

Solutions that assist the hearing impaired can also help people who have difficulty reading (for example, people with dyslexia, which somewhere between 5 and 15% of Americans have).

Content Considerations

As mentioned before, 70% contrast is required, and your fonts need to be easy to read. When designing content for digital signs, think about how it might appear to someone with a disability, or how they might interact with it.

Pictograms and universally-accepted icons are also extremely helpful. People are used to seeing them everywhere already and know what they mean. They also take up less space in your designs, meaning that people with difficulty reading aren’t unduly challenged.

One of the most commonly-addressed ADA requirements is wayfinding. There are numerous companies that specialize in making compliant wayfinding signs, and you can also make your wayfinding interactive – incorporating a host of the requirements and suggestions listed above. The good news is that if you use a single touchscreen for wayfinding and directories, you’ve covered two ADA requirements for some facilities right there. Just remember that the screen design still has to be tailored to visitors with disabilities.

The more information you make available for people to access, the easier it will be for them. Consider that not all disabilities are obvious or even physical – people with autism, for example, may find it extremely difficult to interact with people. A good wayfinding deployment with nested directories is a perfect solution.

And then there’s something that isn’t ADA exactly, but still worth considering: other languages. Having key messages in multiple languages, or a touchscreen hotspot that can change the overall language of the UI, can go a long way to making people feel welcome and included.

There are also huge marketing and PR benefits to being ADA compliant. Once you get everything in order, you can advertise this fact. People with disabilities will certainly appreciate it, as will a sizeable portion of your general audience. In an age where millennials will leave a job for one that pays less but is more socially responsible, inclusiveness is a key factor to employee satisfaction.

Yes, you have to be ADA compliant to avoid lawsuits and penalties. But it’s also to right thing to do. It increases your reach, and makes your brand more modern and trustworthy. It’s also not that difficult. Just a few tweaks here and there, and you’ll be in accord with not only the law, but people’s expectations.

>> Want more info? Listen to our podcast for more ADA tips.