Consumer-Defined Standards for Courteous Treatment By Service Agencies
The independent living movement has a goal of increasing the control of people with disabilities over their own lives.
Purpose and Anticipated Benefits
Explicit criteria for courteous treatment give a base to measure when striving for the goal of courteous treatment by service staff. When agencies do display hospitable service, they gain a reputation in the community for courtesy and responsiveness. Consumers benefit by receiving improved service as well as maintaining their dignity and sense of personal regard
Michael Johnson and Stephen Fawcett, both of the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas, worked with 150 people who had physical disabilities and the agencies of Independence Inc., Topeka Resource Center for the Handicapped, Paraquad, the Human Dignity Project, Disabled Citizens Alliance for Independence, Project Acceptance, and the Penn House to develop courtesy standards.
After a search in the literature to identify criteria for hospitable treatment in service context, interviews were done with individuals who had a variety of physical disabilities including visual, hearing, and mobility impairments. They talked about situations where they were treated with courteously and also rudely. Agencies that they discussed included medical offices, welfare offices, poverty service agencies, and centers for independent living. Each was visited by the researchers to observe client treatment. Simulations of typical encounters were taped and viewed by consumers, service providers, and researchers to provide feedback on the behavior and refine the empirically-validated standards of treatment.
Eighty-two percent of the people interviewed said they felt the reason they were treated rudely was because of their physical appearance and disability.
Suggested courtesy standards
1. When beginning an exchange, the consumer should expect the service provider to:
- Make an initial greeting (for example, “Good afternoon”).
- Ask if help is needed (for example, “May I help you?”).
- Request the consumer’s name (for example, “May I have your name?”).
- Ask the consumer to have a seat (for example, “Won’t you have a seat?”). Note: If in a wheelchair, the consumer may be directed to a waiting area (for example, “Won’t you wait in our lounge?”).
2. When gathering information and filling out forms, the consumer should expect the service provider to:
- Describe his/her role to the consumer (for example, “I will be conducting the intake interview with you”).
- Address the consumer by name (for example, “Mrs. Jones” or “Martha”).
- Ask the consumer to provide the needed information (for example, “I am going to ask you to answer some questions about your financial situation”).
- State the rationale for requesting the information (for example, “We need this information to help you get housing”).
- Provide within or outside agency referral when necessary (for example, “Let me direct you to Mr. Katz at the Housing Authority for information on housing”).
3. When talking with the service provider, the consumer should expect the service provider to listen actively by:
- Maintaining an active listening posture (for example, “Leaning forward slightly towards the consumer”).
An alarm clock rings to start the day for Martha Jones, a widow in her late 40s. With the help of her personal care attendant, she arrives at a local welfare agency to request assistance in finding a part-time job. As she waits, she overhears a staff member refer to her as the “cripple in the chair.” After nearly 20 minutes, a service provider approaches, glances at Martha’s wheelchair, and asks the attendant what she needs. The service provider says he will need some information and begins to fill out an in formation form. He checks the ‘‘not married’’ section without consulting Mrs. Jones. When questioned about this, the service provider stated that he thought that someone in ‘‘her condition” could not possibly be married. As Martha was explaining that her husband had recently passed away, the phone rang. Mrs. Jones spent the next five minutes waiting while the service provider talked with a colleague, an interruption that went unexcused.
Maintaining eye contact (for example, “Looking into the consumer’s eyes”).
- Making nonverbal and verbal encouragements (for example, “Nodding the head” or “Mmmm-hmm”).
- Using good verbal quality (for example, “Talking loud enough so the consumer can hear no whispering or shouting”).
4. When talking, the consumer should expect the service provider to ask questions courteously by:
- Asking close-ended questions when asking for factual information (for example, “Are you married?”).
- Asking open-ended questions when asking investigative questions (for example, “What are your thoughts on this?”).
5. When talking, the consumer should expect the service provider to handle special situations that may arise by:
- Providing assistance with incomplete information forms (for example, “May I help you complete a couple of items on this form?”).
- Removing obstacles in the physical environment (for example, bunched carpet blocking a wheelchair tire).
- Excusing interruptions (for example, “Pardon the interruption”).
- Offering assistance to consumers having difficulty reading and/or understanding information forms or instructions (for example, “Some parts of the form may be confusing. May I help you with it?”).
6. Offer assistance to consumers having difficulty writing (for example, “May I help you fill out the form?”).
- Listening carefully to consumers having difficulty in speaking clearly, and if necessary, requesting that the consumer write the message on paper (for example, “Would you please write that down for me?”).
- Offering assistance to consumers having difficulty seeing (for example, “Some parts of the form may be difficult to see. Let me know if I can help you in some way?”).
- Offering assistance in the form of speaking louder and more clearly and/or using sign language (if known) with consumers having difficulty hearing.
- Directing comments to the consumer if he/she is with a personal care attendant; Not talking to the consumer through the attendant (for example, “Do you understand, Mrs. Jones?”).
- Using appropriate language when referring to consumers with disabilities (for example, “Person with a disability,” not “cripple”).
7. When closing the interaction, the consumer should expect the service provider to:
- Request questions from the consumer (for example, “Do you have any questions?”).
- Offer further help (for example, “Is there anything else I can do for you today?”).
- Provide additional service, if requested (for example, provide help in obtaining transportation from the agency if needed).
- Schedule the next appointment, if necessary (for example, “Could you come for an appointment a week from Monday?”).
- Direct the consumer to another service provider, if necessary) (for example, “Mr. Katz is at the Housing Authority. That is at 5th and Main Street”).
- Make a final parting statement (for example, “Have a nice day”).
Johnson, M. D., & Fawcett, S. B. (1989). Running quality circles: Extending consumer influence in service agencies. Lawrence, KS: Research and Training Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas.
Johnson, M. D., & Fawcett, S. B. (1989). First impression: Enhancing courteous treatment to consumers. Lawrence, KS: Research and Training Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas.
Johnson, M. D., & Fawcett, S. B. (1987). Promoting courteous and dignified treatment of people with disabilities. American Psychological Association Convention, New York, NY.
Johnson, M. D., & Fawcett, S. B. (1987). Staying close to the client: Methods for improving courteous treatment and responsiveness of independent living agencies. National Conference on Independent Living, Washington, DC.
Johnson, M. D., & Fawcett, S. B. (1987). Promoting dignified treatment of human service clients using courtesy training and quality circles. Community Research and Action Conference, Columbia, SC.
Johnson, M. D., & Fawcett, S. B. (1986). An analysis of responsive and courteous treatment of human service agency clients. Association for Behavior Analysis, Milwaukee, WI.
Johnson, M. D., & Fawcett, S. B. (1986). Methods for improving courteous treatment and responsiveness of independent living service agencies. National Association of Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers, Kansas City, MO.
Johnson, M. D., & Fawcett, S. B. (1986). Staying close to the client: Methods for improving courteous treatment and responsiveness of independent living agencies. Society for the Study of Chronic Illness, Impairment, and Disability, Reno, NV.
Johnson, M. D., & Fawcett, S. B. (1994). Courteous service: Its assessment and modification in a human service organization. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 27, 145-152.
Johnson, M. D., & Fawcett, S. B. (1987). Consumer‑defined standards for courteous treatment by service agencies. Journal of Rehabilitation, 53(2), 23‑26.