What Is a Disability Hearing?

When applying for Social Security disability benefits many individuals will need to go through three stages: an initial application, reconsideration, and a hearing. If an application is denied at the initial application stage and at the reconsideration stage, the applicant may request a hearing before an administrative law judge.

A disability hearing may seem daunting, but it is a common part of the process, and it is also the stage with the highest rate of acceptance for applicants. Having an attorney by your side during this stage is highly beneficial as they provide legal expertise, strategic guidance, evidence preparation assistance, effective communication skills, procedural guidance, emotional support, and they maximize your chances of receiving benefits.

What to expect at the hearing

During the hearing, you can expect the judge to address questions to you. These questions typically revolve around your medical problems, treatment, past employment, educational background, and how your medical conditions impact your life. An attorney can ensure that your responses are clear, concise, and effectively convey the extent of your disability.

Additional witnesses may be questioned, such as a vocational expert or medical expert. Your attorney will provide invaluable assistance during the questioning of these witnesses, who play a significant role in determining your eligibility for benefits. Specifically, when the judge questions a vocational expert about the types of jobs you could realistically perform given your disability, your attorney can navigate complex official job codes to ensure an accurate interpretation. Additionally, they will challenge any misrepresentations of your disability that could undermine your case.

Moreover, if a medical expert is called upon to provide an opinion on the severity of your condition and its impact on your life, your attorney can thoroughly assess their testimony and pinpoint any discrepancies or biases. They can then skillfully present counterarguments or additional evidence to strengthen your claim.

Following the hearing, your attorney can review the evidence presented, analyze the judge’s written decision, and provide you with a full understanding of the decision’s implications. If you disagree with the decision, your attorney can guide you through available options, such as requesting an Appeals Council review, ensuring that you meet the deadline of 60 days from receiving notice of the hearing decision.


  • SSA’s Hearing Process, Office of Hearing Operations, https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/hearing_process.html
  • What is the approval rate for Social Security disability benefits? USAFacts (2023), https://usafacts.org/data-projects/disability-benefit-process

Randi L. Johnson, Attorney

Victoria Kelly, Legal Intern