Signage for Primary and Secondary Schools, Colleges, and Universities

Long gone are the days of the one room schoolhouse, where students of all ages sat in one space to learn. Now even smaller schools, and especially colleges and universities, are becoming sprawling campuses, where finding your way around is becoming more and more of a necessity and a struggle simultaneously.

Signage is therefore crucial for visitors, students, teachers, and staff alike, to know where they are, where they need to go, and in some cases where they shouldn’t be. In this blog post we breakdown the different ways schools, colleges, and universities use signs, and the different types of signage that helps schools satisfy their wayfinding needs.

Wayfinding Signage in Elementary School, Middle School, and High School

When you think of schools most often you’re thinking of primary and secondary schools. Though there’s often a level of routine, especially for elementary and middle schools, as to what students, faculty, and staff do each day, wayfinding systems can help new students, staff, and faculty members orient themselves faster and more easily.

Likewise should visitors arrive, be it for an open house, a family visitation day, or other special events, these signs will help direct visitors where to go and not to go.

In the case of an emergency too, these signs will be relied upon to help faculty and staff lead their students through any protocols that may be in place.

Signs for Colleges and Universities

Colleges and Universities often have the same needs as elementary, middle, and high schools, but on a grander scale. Students are also often freer to roam without permission, or a guide, and thus rely increasingly on wayfinding systems.

Even with a comprehensive tour, no doubt most students on their first day feel a sense of disorientation, and with the help of these directional and wayfinding signs they will find their classes and overtime get the hang of their new surroundings.

Dorms and Residence Halls

Aside from a small selection of secondary schools, dorms and residence halls are often unique to colleges and universities. These require signage similar, if not precisely like, other apartment and residential complexes, and these can include everything from visiting hour signs, to room #’s, to rules in public spaces like laundry rooms or other common areas.

Food Courts

Likewise the average primary and secondary school does not have a food court, and while some colleges and universities only have cafeterias serving their own food, many also include franchises be it Taco Bell, Starbucks, or other known food and beverage businesses.

These are not always regulated in the same way as a franchise; however, these businesses do often have their own rules for signage, and they will need to be taken into account too for school management and the sign companies who work on these projects.

Electronic Message Centers

Thus far we’ve discussed primarily wayfinding signage; however, monument signs, pylon signs, and other exterior signs play an important role as well in both welcoming people and marketing news, events, or the school’s values to the public.

One tool that’s become increasingly essential for delivering these messages is the use of electronic message centers. These can be placed either on a monument sign or a pylon sign, depending on the school’s preference and permit allowability through the local municipality.

Campus Curb Appeal

Though many primary and secondary schools students are zoned to these schools, even they, along with private schools, colleges and universities, must consider how signage can help with the overall ‘curb appeal’ of the school.

Curb appeal quite simply is the look and feel of a place as it appears when walking or driving by said place, and for schools that especially have to recruit students this can be a major component of a student’s first impression of a school and especially its campus.

Signs play an integral component here, and Electronic Message Centers can help, but also road banners around the campus, or on main drives through the campus, along with vinyl signage on exterior windows that help brand the school.

ADA Signage

ADA Signage is a crucial component with all wayfinding signage in all schools, as it is required in any public building or institution. Schools more and more are ensuring that they are fully accessible places, and even without government mandates they turn to ADA signage specs to ensure they fulfill their own mission to be fully inviting and open.

ADA signage isn’t simply just about putting braille on a sign as well, so it’s important to work with a sign company who understands what goes into ADA and can fabricate ADA signs for your needs.

Introduction to ADA Accessibility Symbols

Introduction to ADA Accessibility Symbols

When ensuring accessibility at your business, it’s important to stay on top of the latest requirements and guidelines or hire an expert who does this already. For us in the signage industry this is incredibly essential for us and our clients, so when we design ADA signs we have in-house experts who know what is allowed and what is required with regards to your signs. One element that’s especially important is the use of key symbols and icons on exterior and interior signage.

Accessibility symbols are in our everyday lives, and they’re more present in your life than you may even know. The most prevalent of these is the international symbol for accessibility. RIG Global, the organization that hosted the conference where the symbol was first designed, states that the “World Congress formally adopted the International Symbol of Access in 1969.

International Symbol of Access

From’s Guidance on Use of the International Symbol of Accessibility Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Architectural Barriers Act, “a symbol other than the ISA will not comply with the ADA Standards unless it satisfies the “equivalent facilitation” provision (§103).” There has been some recent debate about a change to this symbol; however, for now no new versions have been adopted internationally.

Alternative Handicapped Accessible Symbol
Alternative design proposed by the The Accessible Icon Project

In addition to the international symbol for accessibility, there are also other key symbols that highlight accessibility services or tools. Some of these are used on signs, print materials, and digital displays including phones, TVs, and other monitors.

Telephone with Volume Control

Accessibility Symbol Telephone with Volume Control

This symbol represents access to telephones with enhanced sound and/or volume controls.

Braille Symbol

Braille Symbol

This symbol represents print material and signage that is written in Braille.

Audio Description Symbol

Audio Description Symbol

This symbol represents the availability of audio services for those with are blind or have low vision.

Assistive Listening Symbol

Assistive Listening System Symbol

This symbol represents access to audio systems or tools for those with impaired hearing.

Large Print Symbol

Large Print Symbol

This symbol represents the availability of print material or signage in large print font.

Sign Language Interpretation Symbol

Sign Language Interpretation Symbol

This symbol represents the availability of sign language services or individuals to assist those with impaired hearing.

Information Symbol

This symbol represents the availability of information, services, tools, or print material to aid in accessibility.

Visually Impaired Symbol

Symbol for Accessible Services for Individuals Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

This symbol represents the availability of services or tools for those who are blind or otherwise have low vision.

Telephone Typewriter Symbol

This symbol represents access to a telecommunication device that helps deaf or hearing impaired individuals via a telephone system.

Closed Captioning Symbol

This symbol represents the availability of closed captioning services on a display or displays.

(Source: Disability Access Symbols)


Though ADA guidelines are routinely reviewed, and sometimes modified and newly adapted at a national and international level, these symbols have stayed fairly consistent through the years. So a basic familiarity of these icons is a wonderful start to knowing a little bit more about the world of accessibility symbols.


We rely on our in-house team of ADA experts to help our clients with their ADA needs, and you can rely on us too. If you need ADA signage for your business, you can call us at Ortwein Sign 1-866-867-9208 or leave a message for us here:

ADA Compliance & Litigation

With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, rules and regulations were implemented across the United States to help ensure accessibility for visitors and patrons of public buildings, gov’t buildings, and businesses. Over the past 30 years, the effort to increase and ensure access for all has only strengthened and with that so has litigation and compliance enforcement.

ADA Enforcement

Enforcement of ADA regulations and codes is under the purview of the Department of Justice, who state on their website that “through lawsuits and settlement agreements, the Department of Justice has achieved greater access for individuals with disabilities in hundreds of cases.” Though the ultimate resolution of these settlements and lawsuits may vary from case to case, it’s important to note that “under Title III, the DOJ may obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violation.”

States and Local Governments

Though the DOJ is the chief authority enforcing and ensuring ADA compliance, states and local governments may, with approval from the DOJ, modify their regulations so long as the changes are certified by the DOJ. “Certification bridges the gap between the federal and state enforcement processes. The certification process neither delegates ADA enforcement authority to the states nor eliminates an individual’s right to seek relief through the federal courts. However, effective enforcement of a certified code can mitigate the need for federal enforcement by ensuring that new or altered buildings are accessible. This process gives building owners and design professionals some assurance in advance of construction that the ADA requirements will be satisfied. And, if a lawsuit is filed, compliance with a certified code may be offered as rebuttable evidence of compliance with the ADA.”

Modifications by state and local governments must meet or exceed ADA codes and regulations. In his Sign Expo 2021 session, “Accessibility & the ADA Crash Course”Dave Miller, Managing Director of Nova Polymers, said that California is one such state that actually expanded their accessibility compliance rules. According to, “When these laws are inconsistent, the burden falls on building owners and design professionals to ensure compliance with both federal and state laws.”

Increased Litigation

Dave added in his presentation that as part of this increased emphasis on compliance 10 states have accessibility inspectors who, unlike general building inspectors, are solely focused on ADA compliance. Whether it’s due to the increased presence of inspectors in these 10 states, or the focus on accessibility nationally, the number of ADA Title III lawsuits has increased exponentially over the past 8 years, according to the data collected by Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

[Total Number of ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits Filed Each Year January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2021: 2013: 2,722; 2014: 4,436 63% increase over 2013; 2015: 4,789 8% increase over 2014; 2016: 6,601 38% increase over 2015; 2017: 7,663 16% increase over 2016; 2018: 10,163 33% increase over 2017; 2019: 11, 053 9% increase over 2018; 2020: 10,982 1% decrease from 2019]

[Total Number of ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits Filed Each Year January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2021: 2013:  2,722; 2014: 4,436 63% increase over 2013; 2015: 4,789 8% increase over 2014; 2016: 6,601 38% increase over 2015; 2017: 7,663 16% increase over 2016; 2018: 10,163 33% increase over 2017; 2019: 11, 053 9% increase over 2018; 2020: 10,982 1% decrease from 2019. Source:]

Though ultimately Seyfarth recorded a modest slowdown of ADA litigation in 2020, due to the pandemic, as they conclude “In January 2021, 1,108 cases were filed – the most ever in a single month. If the filings continue at their current rate, 2021 will be another record-breaking year for ADA Title III filings in federal court.”

Importance of Compliance

Dave emphasized in his presentation that the DOJ’s fees and enforcement should be seen as a hammer to incentivize compliance and not a money maker. Whether you see this act as a punitive measure, or an incentive, with the increased litigation year over year, on access in physical locations and digitally, business owners should do their best to ensure they are up to ADA standards.

Our Ortwein Sign team is versed in ADA guidelines at the state and national level, so that when we build your sign we can assure you that we have built it in compliance and installed your signage per ADA regulations.