Speaking in a courtroom is intimidating to most people who don't have extensive courtroom experience. And when you're speaking in a courtroom because you have to answer questions at your disability hearing, you might be feeling especially anxious - there's a lot riding on the decision the judge makes, and you may not be sure how your words will influence the decision. Take a look at some tips that can help you answer some of the questions you may be asked at your hearing.
Use Precise Language
Vague statements don't help the judge understand how your disability is impacting your life and your ability to work. For example, most people have experienced a headache at work, so saying that you have headaches might not be enough to help the judge understand why you can't work. However, describing chronic headaches that present with shooting pain, extreme light sensitivity and severe nausea gives the judge a more complete picture.
Words like aching, shooting, throbbing or burning help paint a picture of what your pain feels like. Use words like acute or chronic to describe short-lived or persistent symptoms. Explain where in your body you experience these symptoms. If you're describing fatigue, explain how that symptom affects your concentration, sleep and mood as well as your energy level.
Describe your condition to the judge the way you would describe it to your doctor. Precise details help the doctor make a diagnosis, and they can also help the judge make a decision.
Resist the Urge to Exaggerate or Downplay Symptoms
You probably have every intention of being honest, but it can be easy to unintentionally inflate or minimize your symptoms. Some people, especially those with invisible disabilities, become accustomed to others questioning their symptoms or doubting whether they're really sick because to others they don't look sick.
If you get the sense that the judge is doubting you, you may be tempted to exaggerate your already valid symptoms in order to convince the judge. However, this is likely to backfire - it can cause the judge to doubt your credibility entirely.
On the other hand, if you're more of a stoic type who frequently tries to reassure those around you that you're fine, even when you don't seem fine, you may downplay your condition and its impact on your life out of pride or out of habit. But disability court is not the place for stoicism. The judge needs a frank account of your condition in order to make an informed decision.
Stay Away from Absolutes
One more thing to avoid is making absolute statements. For example, if the judge asks whether you drink alcohol, don't say "never" unless you really never do. If you drink even occasionally, there's a good chance that information is noted somewhere in your medical records. Admitting to drinking (or smoking cigarettes or using drugs) won't hurt you as badly as being caught in a lie about it will.
The same thing applies when answering questions about your abilities. Don't say that it's impossible for you to drive if you do occasionally drive. Even if your driving habits aren't noted in your medical records, they may be revealed by looking at your social media or questioning your friends and family.
The disability judge will understand that it's possible to be too disabled to work but still able to drive occasionally. It's attempting to mislead that will undermine your credibility. A truthful answer is always better than an absolute denial, even when you think the truthful answer is harmful to your case.
The best way to prepare to answer questions at a disability hearing is to practice with your lawyer. An experienced Social Security Disability lawyer will be able to anticipate the questions you'll be asked and help you prepare the best answers.