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.