Horizontal Exits for Dummies

In California, the SFM muddied the waters of our tactile exit signs somewhat by adding a special sign for doors at horizontal exits. To most members of the "lay public," including the members of the blindness community who rely on the tactile signs, they would not be able to tell the difference between a "horizontal exit" (which gets a tactile sign stating "TO EXIT,") and what we are calling an "EXIT ROUTE," which is merely any part of the building other than a stairway that you must pass through to get to the final exit discharge. The message to the blind person is just "You aren't there yet, you have to go further and then search again for a sign that says "exit." Then you will know you will be going outdoors to safety."

So that's the back story. But almost no one I talk with, including some architects and building engineers, appear to be able to show me what doors should get the horizontal exit sign! I've thought I understood what they were a number of times, and then someone gives me some different info, and I'm lost again!

So who can give me a concise "Horizontal Exits for Dummies" description that I can use to explain it to others, and also use to make sure I'm getting a correct signage specification?

Sharon Toji
The ADA Sign Lady
Original Post
Hey there Sharon, the reason is because they are complicated and not many designers even understand them or have ever had to even use one. I had to do one a number of years ago and the chief Building Official flat told me he did not understand what they were or how they worked. In a one story, they are fairly simple, a door going through a min 2hr fire wall creating an exit into a protected space. In a multiple story building, it is much much more complicated. Horizontal exits encompass way more than just the door that penetrates them, it is a whole fire separation system. There are a bunch of other requirements and pieces to the puzzle but bottom line, it is just a way of moving people into another space through a wall with a high degree of fire protection.
Wayne, that's exactly why I wish the SFM would have left well enough alone, and just has us use "Exit Route" signs there. As it is, we get constant requests for the "To Exit" signs, and they are placed either at doors that should say "Exit Route," or along exit corridors, where they are misleading and could be dangerous to blind people during emergencies, because they might go through the next door, which might not lead to an exit.

How would you like to help me convince the SFM to change that code next round?

Sharon Toji
Sure, I can help in anyway I can. I have always wondered, who is teaching the disabled what some of these signs mean. I was sitting in a fast food restaurant this past weekend looking at the accessibility signs for the restroom. I was wondering, if I was blind how would I even go searching for the restrooms. Would I find a wall and then just keep walking along the wall until I found a sign with braille telling me I finally found a restroom. Or would I just ask someone for help....hmmmmmm, I guess it would depend how stuborn I was or how bad I had to go :- )
Sorry, I didn't check back earlier and see this great article. Thanks, Mark! Maybe I can include it in some way when I get those incorrect requirements for "To Exit" signs! I can see that, in some schools, we should have probably been using the "To Exit" signs instead of "Exit Route" signs at some doors, but again, since they are really information for people who are blind, and the visual signs don't make a distinction, I still think we should just have the "Exit Route" signs.

As to Wayne's question: Blind people "in the know" are supposed to be looking for readable tactile signs adjacent to doors. For restrooms in a restaurant, for instance, they would act like most of us do, and ask someone to point them toward the restrooms. They are usually in a small alcove or corridor, through a door or doorway. In an office building with public restrooms in corridors, they would ask the direction. Once they get to the approximate location, they would feel alongside the door, and hope to find a tactile sign.

The problem has been that there are so few venues that have bothered with the signs, or if they have the signs, they are unreadable, or in the wrong location, that many savvy blind people have just given up on them. And they don't sue, because they have been told that it hasn't actually harmed them, as long as someone has been able to show them the restroom.

Actually, we should take this thread by now over to the ADA section!

Thanks, both Wayne and Mark for responding. And let's work to simplify the tactile exit sign messages!

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