Disability Awarness and The Reception Desk

Back in 2010 I worked for a private hospital. All the staff from cleaners, receptionists, nurses and Doctors was all just so lovely – a great bunch of staff who all have exceptional customer care skills.

What did surprise me was that very few Receptionists (and some nursing staff) knew what the “nicely designed” reception desks were really for.

When I say “nicely designed” receptionists desks I mean the desks that were there to help assist the disabled, especially people in wheelchairs.

As you can see in the pictures the desks are designed in such a way that a disabled patient, can have easy access to the desk at all times.

The “modern” receptionist desks are usually quite high – this enables the receptionist to sit on a high chair or stand so they are at the same level as the person they are dealing with.

Can you see how difficult it would be for a wheelchair user at this desk?

So why should a disabled person be any different?

By having a lower desk it gives the disabled patient the option to sit at the lower part of the reception desk if they need to complete any necessary forms, or just to talk to a receptionist that is sitting on a low chair face to face rather than the receptionist standing and talking down to them. Its far more patient friendly doing it this way – and asking anyone that is either a receptionist or a disabled patient will both tell you it is a much nicer way to communicate. It is also excellent for confidentiality when the receptionist might be asking the patient some questions.

It is not just wheelchair users that may need this facility – people on crutches would be unable to stand at the higher desk to complete necessary forms, and of course there are others that are disabled that have no signs that they are – but they still may need to sit down to complete necessary forms or just to book future appointments.

So, to my dismay I actually witnessed a Receptionists standing talking down to a patient in a wheelchair at the highest part of the reception desk. The patient was asked to complete a form whereby the receptionist gave the patient a clipboard to balance on their lap whilst they completed the form. Other standing patients were crowding around the patient in the wheelchair and I am pretty sure they must have felt very uncomfortable.

I didn’t want to embarrass the receptionist or the patient so I let it go. But as soon as the patient had finished I asked the receptionist why she though the low part of the reception desk was for. She replied she thought it was just the design of the desk. She then laughed and asked was it was for sitting on!

I had to point it out it was actually there for disabled people to use – to enable them to complete any necessary forms at ease and the receptionist could speak to them at this point and avoid having to stand over and talk down to them – sitting on a low chair they would be talking to them face to face – as they would do with a patient that would be standing at the high part of the desk.

She was amazed and agreed it was a great idea. I asked several other receptionists after this and a good 30% of them were exactly the same and thought that it was just a design factor instead of being there to help the disabled.

Because of this the lower part of the desk designed to assist the disabled had no information leaflets like they had on the higher part of the desk, or pens that were needed to complete necessary forms.

So, do not take it for granted that a new member of staff will be aware of what this part of the desk is for – get your Supervisor or Team Leader to use this in their Reception training and always ensure that the lower desk is as well equipped as the higher part of the reception desk.


Communicating Tips for the Hard of Hearing.

One in five adults in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing. This means that in an average day (8 am to 6pm) you could see 10 patients in your surgery who have difficulty in hearing what you are saying.

As the majority of GPs and surgery staff have not been trained to communicate effectively with deaf or hard of hearing patients it is not surprising that many patients with hearing loss either leave the surgery feeling confused about the advice they have been given or avoid seeing their GP altogether.

Fortunately learning how to communicate more effectively with deaf and hard of hearing people is simple and can be very rewarding to the Receptionist.

The following tips will help you feel more confident about being understood and hopefully give your patients a better service.

  • Remember to face patients when speaking to them and check that they have understood you.
  • Try to reduce background noise, especially for hearing aid users.
  • Avoid having bright lights positioned behind your or equipment blocking out the patients view as these can make lip-reading difficult.
  • Try to remember to check that the patient you are about to converse with is looking at you before you begin to speak.
  • Remember confidentiality. Try not to shout, as this will only distort your voice and lip patterns. Speak clearly, with a normal rhythm of speech. Shouting will only result in embarrassing the patients.
  • Try to remember sentences and phrases are easier to lip-read than single words.
  • Try to allow time for the patient you are talking with to absorb what you have said – and please do not rush them. Give them time to ask questions if they are unsure.
  • Try to keep your hands and anything you may be holding away from your face and do not eat while you are talking.
  • Try to avoid exaggerated or misleading facial expressions.
  • Try to use some gestures during conversations as this may help.
  • Speak in a moderate rhythm, try not to change the subject suddenly and re-phrase if your patient has not understood.
  • Keep a pen and paper handy in case you need to write anything down.
  • As patients how they prefer to communicate and mark their notes accordingly. This can be done as an alert message on the computer screen. This will alert other healthcare professionals and receptionists when booking them in.
  • Think about how patients in the waiting room know when it is their turn – either by a receptionist alerting them personally or the doctor or nurse alerting them. They might always be able to hear the tannoy.
  • Make sure that all staff, Doctors and attached staff are aware if you have a portable hearing loop in your surgery. Ensure that you are aware of how it operates – and ensure that it is checked on a regular basis.
  • Always talk to the patient and do not talk past them or to the person they might be with

Remember: They are only hard of hearing – not stupid!

Receptionists Training: How To Identify People that Have Difficulties Reading and Writing.

How would you identify and deal with a patient that might have problems with reading and writing – and not embarrass them?

I have seen many patients embarrassed by a receptionist insisting that the “complete” the form in front of them.


  • They will often become agitated or look uncomfortable when given a form to complete
  • They might go very red in the face with embarrassment
  • They will try to make an excuse ask if they can bring the form back at another time
  • They might say they can not wait and will fill it in next time (when they can bring
    someone back with them)

And the most often used excuse is:

They have left their glasses at home!

Many of the above could indicate that the person had problems completing the form. For
whatever reason do not embarrass the person by insisting they complete the form.

If the form can be taken away and completed and brought back all well and good, but as I
well know many of these forms never come back again. So I appreciate the importance of getting the forms completed there and then.


If you have reason to believe that the person is having difficult completely the form you

  •  Be very discreet
  • Never ask the person if they have problems with reading and writing
  • Never snatch the form back and say “give it to me”
  • Offer to help complete the form
  • Try and put them at ease – if they say they do not have their glasses just tell them that it is ok and that lots of patients do the same and you are more than happy to
    help complete the form.
  • Put the patient at ease by saying that it might be quicker for you to do the form
    because you know what parts have to be filled in.

You will often find by showing kindness and not judging the person will in fact tell you
that they have problems in completing forms. If they do tell them its fine – and they we get many request for help with filling in forms.

Explain  to them that you would be more than happy to help again, and that they should ask for you or another member of staff to help complete the next necessary form.

Ask the person if you want them to make a note of it on their patient notes – so in future they are not asked to complete a form again at the desk. Many are happy for you to do this. It also helps other team members know of their disability in not being able to read or write.

Every patient should be treated with respect at all times.

Wheelchair Users

A Wheelchair, like a shoe it is a  mobility aid that enables a person to get around.  Wheelchairs users are restricted by an environment that has been designed for able-bodied living.

Here are some important tips when assisting a wheelchair user:

  • How you can provide useful support to the wheelchair user
  •  When talking to a wheelchair user try to put yourself at their eye level.
  •  Never assume a wheelchair user needs assistance, always ask.
  •  If your offer of assistance is accepted, always listen to how your support can be more effective.
  •   Whenever possible talk directly to a wheelchair user if you require specific information, not the  person they are with.
  • Always maintain good eye contact.
  •  If you park next to a car with a disabled persons parking disc, leave at least 1 meter between cars. This space may be needed for loading and unloading a wheelchair.
  •  Offer assistance with heavy doors, but don’t barge in assuming you know best.
  •  Communicate with the wheelchair user at all times to establish if and how much support is needed.