In a typical disability hearing the judge and your attorney will take your testimony. The questions they will ask fall into four broad categories: 1) background information, 2) work history, 3) medical conditions and symptoms, and 4) activities of daily living.
Background questions provide the judge general information about you. This includes items such as your education, marital status, household income, and, if applicable, any military service or past criminal charges or incarcerations. The judge might ask you whether you have used drugs or alcohol in the past.
The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) should already be familiar with your work history in general from the information you provided in your application. The ALJ might ask for additional information such as your job responsibilities, the mental and physical demands of those jobs, and whether your medical conditions affected your job performance. This last item is the most important. Giving the judge specific examples of problems with co-workers or bosses, meeting performance standards, or attending work consistently can convince the judge that your medical conditions would prevent you from working again.
The judge should also be somewhat familiar with your medical conditions as described in your medical records. Although your medical records are in your disability file they don’t provide all the information the judge needs to make an informed decision. The judge will likely ask you about how your medical conditions affect you. What type of pain do they cause you? How do you try to relieve the pain? Are your medications effective? How much can you lift and carry? How long can you stand, sit, and walk? Whatever your medical conditions may be, the hearing is your opportunity to provide details about your symptoms.
You may be asked about your activities of daily living, or “ADLs”. Your ADLs include everyday activities like bathing and dressing yourself, cooking, cleaning, yard work, and grocery shopping. If you have young children or disabled adults in your household the judge will likely asked detailed questions about who cares for them.
If you are very active this will suggest to the judge that you might be able to hold a job. But discussing your ADLs is another opportunity to illustrate the problems your medical conditions cause you. Do you have to take breaks while doing chores? Do you have to ask for help to care for your children when your symptoms are at their worst? Trying your best to help around the house isn’t a bad thing, but it’s crucial to explain to the judge how your medical conditions limit your efforts.