Reading the Room

Using Signage to Create Healthy and Vibrant ADA-Compliant Spaces
Sponsored by Inpro
By Erika Fredrickson
1 AIA LU/HSW; *1 ADA State Accessibility/Barrier-Free; 0.1 ICC CEU; 0.1 IACET CEU*; 1 AIBD P-CE; AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines; AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.; MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.; This course can be self-reported to the NSAA; NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; OAA 1 Learning Hour; SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning

Learning Objectives:

  1. Discuss how signage has evolved to create more welcoming spaces in support of occupant well-being.
  2. Identify the latest signage material and manufacturing processes and their impact on occupant safety.
  3. Describe the liability exposure building owners face for non-compliance with ADA.
  4. Explain how ADA compliance leads to healthier, safer, and more welcoming environments.

This course is part of the ADA Academy

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It also reduces maintenance costs associated with repairs or replacements. When signage materials are not durable, they may chip, crack, or warp easily, requiring frequent repairs or replacements. This not only incurs additional expenses but also leads to disruptions in the visual consistency of a space.

Durability is also about safety. Signage materials need to be structurally sound to ensure the safety of both individuals and property. For example, architectural signage placed in high-traffic areas or public spaces should be able to withstand accidental impacts without breaking or causing injury. Durable materials provide stability and reliability, minimizing potential hazards.

Another reason durability is so important is that it represents the identity and brand of an organization or institution. A well-designed and durable sign conveys professionalism, credibility, and attention to detail. On the other hand, signage that is worn out, faded, or damaged can create a negative impression and diminish the overall perception of the space.

Depending on its location and type, there may be specific regulations and codes that dictate durability requirements for signage. For example, in areas prone to earthquakes or strong winds, signage materials must meet certain standards to ensure they can withstand these environmental factors. Compliance with such regulations is crucial to maintain public safety and avoid legal issues.

Advancements in material technologies have led to the development of innovative options for durable architectural signage. Those technologies include high-performance plastics and metal composite materials, as well as digital ceramic printing processes and nanotechnology coatings. Here are some of the trending materials used in architectural signage that offer enhanced durability.

Rigid Vinyl

Rigid vinyl is known for its exceptional durability. It is highly resistant to scratches, dents, and impact, making it suitable for high-traffic areas or environments where signage may be subject to frequent handling or abuse. This durability ensures that the signage maintains its visual appeal and functionality over time. Signage made of rigid vinyl is designed to withstand various weather conditions, including extreme temperatures, humidity, and moisture. It is resistant to fading, warping, or discoloration caused by sunlight exposure or environmental factors, which makes it suitable for both indoor and outdoor applications, such as outdoor wayfinding signage or building directory signs.

It also requires minimal maintenance. It is easy to clean and can be wiped down with mild cleaning agents to remove dirt or stains. The material's resistance to damage and discoloration means that it retains its appearance with minimal upkeep, reducing the need for frequent replacements or repairs. This quality also results in reduced replacement costs over time compared to signage made from less durable materials. Another cost-saving quality goes back to the versatility of the material. Versatility allows for efficient production and customization, which can help control manufacturing and installation expenses.

Rigid vinyl can be easily fabricated and customized to meet specific signage requirements. It can be cut into different shapes and sizes, allowing for a wide range of design possibilities. The material can be easily printed on or laminated, enabling the incorporation of custom graphics, branding elements, or information specific to the signage purpose.

It is often manufactured using eco-friendly processes and materials and is also recyclable, contributing to waste reduction and environmental sustainability efforts. Choosing signage made from eco-friendly materials produced with eco-friendly processes is a way to align the material with organizations' sustainability goals and initiatives. Considering these advantages can help organizations make informed decisions when selecting signage materials that best meet their needs in terms of durability, functionality, and visual appeal.

Photo courtesy of Inpro

When employees are surrounded by art in their workplace, it can spark their imagination, encourage innovative thinking, and provide fresh perspectives.

Applied Acrylic

Like rigid vinyl, applied acrylic offers advantages in durability and design. It is resistant to scratches, UV radiation, and weathering and does not easily break or damage. It can be formed into a variety of sizes and shapes and made available in a wide range of colors. This array of options allows for highly customized design, which can result in unique and eye-catching architectural signage that matches the aesthetic requirements of a space. It also enables the use of specific corporate or brand colors, ensuring that the signage aligns with the organization's visual identity.

Acrylic has excellent optical clarity, making it a popular choice for signage that requires clear and sharp visibility. It allows for high-resolution graphics, logos, and text to be applied, ensuring that the signage is easily readable and visually appealing. It’s lightweight, which makes it easy to handle, install, and transport. This quality can sometimes result in cost savings during installation and allows for flexibility in signage placement or repositioning within a space.

Applied acrylic provides a balance between durability, visual appeal, and affordability, making it a popular choice for a wide range of architectural signage applications. When considering applied acrylic for architectural signage, it’s important to consult with signage professionals or manufacturers who can provide guidance on the specific application, thickness, and mounting options to ensure optimal performance and longevity of the signage.


Photopolymer is a type of plastic material that is being used more frequently in architectural signage. As with applied acrylic and rigid vinyl, photopolymer has a reputation for durability in both indoor and outdoor applications and lends itself to easy maintenance and cost-effectiveness. It is yet another material that offers design flexibility in terms of shape, size, and color and it can be combined with different substrates, such as metal or acrylic, to achieve desired aesthetics. The material tends to work well for signs that require precise, crisp, and detailed graphics, text, and images. It can showcase intricate designs and fine details, resulting in visually appealing signage.

Photopolymer is commonly used for creating tactile signage that meets ADA requirements. It allows for the production of signage with raised characters and Braille, enabling visually impaired individuals to read and navigate through spaces independently.

Some photopolymer materials are manufactured using eco-friendly processes and can be recycled. When considering photopolymer for architectural signage, it’s important to work with experienced signage professionals who can guide you on material selection, design considerations, and installation techniques to ensure optimal results and compliance with relevant regulations and standards.

Performance Standards and Codes

Performance standards for signage durability include ASTM D2247 for accelerated weathering, ASTM D2794 for impact resistance, and ASTM B117 for salt spray corrosion resistance. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) provides standards and testing for various products, including electrical signage components. These standards ensure safety and durability in the electrical and lighting aspects of signage.

Building codes and regulations can vary significantly between regions. Local authorities and municipalities may have specific requirements for architectural signage durability, fire safety, structural integrity, and accessibility. It’s essential to consult the relevant building codes and regulations in your specific location.

LEED and Healthy Building Practices

Architectural signage can contribute to various LEED categories, including:

  • Signage that promotes alternative transportation options, such as bicycle racks or carpooling information, can contribute to reducing the impact of transportation on the site.
  • Using energy-efficient lighting systems, such as LED lights, for illuminated signs can help reduce energy consumption and contribute to energy efficiency goals.
  • Signage that incorporates low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) materials and finishes can contribute to maintaining healthy indoor air quality.
  • Incorporating innovative and sustainable practices in signage design and implementation can earn points in the innovation and sustainable practices category. Examples could include using renewable energy sources to power signage, implementing digital signage to reduce waste from printed materials, or incorporating signage that educates building occupants about sustainability and green practices.

Photo courtesy of Inpro

Through studies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and brain-wave scanning, researchers were able to see that pleasure centers in the brain are triggered by viewing art and images.


The recognition of art’s positive impact on human health and well-being can be traced back to ancient civilizations. Throughout history, various cultures and societies have intuitively understood the therapeutic value of artistic expression. In ancient Egypt, for instance, art was integrated into healing practices, with wall paintings and hieroglyphs adorning the walls of temples and tombs, depicting scenes of healing rituals and medical treatments. These artworks were believed to have magical and transformative powers, aiding in physical and spiritual healing. Similarly, in ancient Greece, art was closely linked to medicine and healing. The Greek physician, Hippocrates, recognized the significance of music in promoting well-being, and his approach to healthcare included the use of music and poetry as therapeutic interventions. The ancient Greeks also believed that viewing and creating visual art could have a profound impact on emotional and mental well-being.

Today, extensive scientific research continues to explore the impact of art on human health and well-being. Studies have shown that art engagement can reduce stress, improve mood, increase empathy, enhance cognitive abilities, and promote overall psychological well-being. This growing body of evidence has led to the integration of art in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities, as well as in workplace environments and educational institutions, recognizing its potential to positively impact individuals' health and quality of life. In that same vein, architectural signage, when thoughtfully integrated with visual art, has the potential to significantly contribute to health and well-being in healthcare facilities, workplaces, and schools. By incorporating visual art into signage, these environments can create a more positive and engaging atmosphere, impacting individuals on multiple levels.

In healthcare settings, paintings, sculptures, or other visual mediums, can reduce anxiety and even pain perception among patients. Art integrated with signage in healthcare facilities can create a more pleasant and comforting environment, supporting patients’ emotional and mental well-being during their healing process.

A 2017 study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being employed anthropological methods to show the interactional aspects of art in health interventions. A combination of experiments, semi-structured interviews, observation, and thermal cameras (which monitored the usage of rooms with and without art) showed that the presence of visual art created an environment and atmosphere where patients can feel safe, socialize, and maintain a connection to the outside world.

Art holds equal significance for both healthcare professionals and patients in medical offices and other work areas. It plays a vital role in combating the physical burnout experienced by approximately 30-55% of physicians, often resulting from long working hours. By cultivating a soothing and pleasant atmosphere, art aids in creating a relaxing environment that enhances work enjoyment. A survey conducted by the International Association of Professional Art Advisors (APAA) revealed that 82% of employees regarded art as crucial within the work environment. This underscores the essentiality of art as a means to uplift morale and alleviate stress.

Similarly, in workplace spaces, architectural signage infused with visual art can enhance the overall well-being and productivity of employees. Visual art has the ability to inspire creativity, boost morale, and reduce stress levels. By incorporating art into signage, workplaces can foster a more stimulating and inspiring environment, ultimately contributing to employee satisfaction, engagement, and overall mental health.

In educational settings, architectural signage combined with visual art can create an enriching and inspiring atmosphere for students. Visual art has been shown to enhance cognitive development, critical thinking skills, and creativity among learners. Schools can create visually stimulating and engaging environments, fostering a positive and conducive space for learning and personal growth.

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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in July 2023