Reception desk area showing different levels for accessibility

Reception Desk


Reception area and desks should be designed in a position that is visible and accessible to all users as soon as they enter the building. Reception areas are pivotal in helping users to immediately connect to navigation and support.

Good desk design optimises the connection between staff and building user. It helps staff anticipate user needs, give the user a sense of connection, and supports independent access throughout the building.

In addition to this guide, further information on reception areas can be found in Health Building Note 00-01 General design guidance for healthcare buildings and HBN 11-01 Facility for Primary and community care services.

Reception desks should be located so that all building users can identify them as soon as they enter the building or department.

Reception points should be accessible, set out in a logical way and well signposted whether they are a busy focal point, informal meeting point or a quiet security control point. Highlighting reception areas with contrasting colours supports users identification. This is particularly helpful in supporting independent access for visually impaired users. See also link to Reception Desk

Recommended standards:

  • Position a reception desk directly facing entrances so it’s immediately visible on entry for all building users. This will help staff at the earliest opportunity identify users who need assistance.
  • Provide a clear and unobstructed route to all reception desks to help users find their way to their destinations.
  • Use dropped bulkheads or a central overhead feature to create a central focus around reception areas.
  • Ensure signage is clearly visible, and information displayed clearly to help all users find their way around the building.
  • Locate reception desks in sight of waiting and seating areas. This will prevent patients from feeling isolated or forgotten when waiting for their appointment.
  • Position reception desks away from the sources of loud noise, as noisy areas can affect effective communication between staff and patients.
  • If glazed security screens are used, ensure they do not hinder communication or create confusing reflections.
  • Walls behind reception counters and information desks should be plain, even and not distract from communicating with staff behind the desk.
  • Lighting within reception areas should always be controllable. Don’t position natural and or artificial light sources behind a reception desk. This causes silhouetting of staff, making visual communication and lip reading difficult.

Ensure there is enough space around the reception desk for users with reduced mobility or those using mobility aids to easily access the reception area.

Recommended standards:

  • All building users should have easy access to the reception desk. Both sides of the reception desk should be accessible, regardless of the user’s accessibility requirements.
  • Provide a 500m knee recess to allow wheelchair users to move close to the desk. See British Standard 8300-2: Design of an accessible and inclusive build environment, if more details needed.
  • Position desk to allow sufficient manoeuvre space for wheelchair and mobility aid users. An appropriate size in front of desk is 1200mm deep x 1800mm wide.

Reception areas can be distracting, noisy and sometimes daunting for those with hearing impairment or cognitive challenges. It is important to ensure the design of reception areas support users to hear and be heard effectively. Use technology and communication aids to support independent use for all users. In addition to the enclosed you may find Core Elements HBN 00-04: Circulation and communication spaces helpful in considering detail needs.

Recommended standards:

  • Design the desk to support all user’s ability to communicate directly with reception staff. This can be achieved with a stepped design so that wheelchair users can be clearly seen by staff working behind the desk.
  • The height of the desk surfaces should suit both sitting and standing users.
  • For sitting users – 760mm is a suitable surface height
  • For standing users – 950-1100mm is a suitable surface height
  • Avoid desk materials that create an excessive reflection as this causes glare and impairs visibility across the desk.
  • Use technology to optimise audible clarity. Induction hearing loops help reduce periphery noise for those with hearing aids. Microphone/speaker systems ensure optimum audible clarity and are especially important where screens are
  • installed.

The reception space should be visible from all directions and without blind spots to ensure that staff and patients can see one another at all times. Staff need to see their patients to ensure they are safe. Equally, the patient needs to feel that the reception staff and area is accessible to them while they wait.

Recommended standards:

  • Reception areas should be both physically accessible and allow for good communication between staff and other building users.
  • Where glazed screens are deemed necessary for security reasons or COVID safety, ensure that the right balance is found between keeping people safe and effective communication:
  • Use low reflectance glass and carefully position local lighting to minimise glare and aid visibility. This helps those who lip read and prevents confusing reflections.
  • Ensure that verbal communication is not hindered by the screen. Consider the use of speech transfer systems alongside an induction loop system.
  • Create sufficient opening within the screen to allow documents or small objects to be passed across the desk.
  • Highlight or contrast any exposed edges of the screen to prevent injury.
  • Screens installed for COVID-19 purposes should be designed so they can be easily removed later.

Reception desks should be designed to make building users feel more at ease while being respectful of needs for confidential discussions.

Recommended Standards:

  • Locate reception desks away from seating areas. Provide a space of at least 1200mm between the reception desk and the seating area.
  • Use comfortable seating near a reception area to encourage people to remain in the seating area while waiting and allowing greater privacy at the desk.
  • The area around a reception desk can be noisy. Consider measures that improve communication across the desk. This could include the acoustic treatment of surrounding materials, such as using sound absorbent wall and ceiling panels.
  • Together with systems such as an audio induction loops, these measures can help those who use hearing aids.
  • A good quality speech enhancement system, such as a microphone/speaker arrangement, may also be needed. Ensure the systems used are not affected by electromagnetic interference caused by nearby electrical and mechanical equipment.
  • Where there are multiple reception positions for patients, privacy screens can be used to create individual reception areas. The screens will act as an acoustic barrier and help maintain patient confidentiality.
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