It is not uncommon that Injured Workers may have difficulties which may warrant the need for some accommodation so that they can participate in their workers’ compensation case at the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.
Injured Workers can have disabilities for a variety of reasons. Many Injured Workers have disabilities that pre-date their industrial injury. For example, someone may have a medical condition from childhood, i.e. polio, which presents the need for accommodation. Some Injured Workers have disabilities that develop after they sustain their work-related accident. Sometimes, post-injury disabilities are unrelated to their work injury claim. For example, after their industrial accident, they were in a non-industrial car accident which caused them to become disabled and in need of accommodation.
Most Workers’ Compensation cases involve more than one appearance. These appearances can be for a variety of reasons. There are a number of them that require the presence of the Injured Worker. These hearings include Expedited Hearings, Mandatory Settlement Conferences and Trials.
Some Hearings may require the Injured Worker to testify. Common Hearings involving Testimony include Expedited Hearings and Trials.
How Does Testimony Occur at the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board?
Testimony is when one is ordered to provide truthful answers under penalty of perjury. This means that false testimony can give rise to the criminal penalty. Therefore, it is very important that the Injured Worker who is testifying, hear and understand the questions, and be able to voice their answers. Accommodations can assist with these processes.
Testimony also requires that the Injured Worker be at the location at which testimony is provided. This is the Courtroom. In order to provide testimony, Injured Workers need to be able to physically enter the courtroom. In the courtroom, there is a chair that they would be required to sit in. Further, when called to testify, they are requested to walk over the chair designated for the witness. They will be placed under oath and be asked to answer questions from their Attorney if represented, the Defense Attorney(s), and the Workers’ Compensation Judge. Further, they may be requested to review documents while on the stand. These documents could include writings or photographs. Sometimes, an Injured Worker may be required to view the videotape.
Why Would Accommodations be needed is there is no testimony?
In hearings in which there are no Trial proceedings, Injured Workers generally would need access to the waiting room at the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. They may be asked to communicate either via their Attorney or through the Information and Assistance Officer their intentions with respect to the issues before the Court on that particular day. They may be asked to review documents, review and sign documents, or possibly review videotape. If they are unrepresented, they will also need to have access to the Judge’s Courtroom to meet the Judge and the Parties for both the conference and/or the disposition of the conference.
What Is a Reasonable Disability Accommodation?
Per the DWC, reasonable accommodation is assistance that will enable a disabled individual to have full access to our services. There are different options available depending on the specific type of disability.
Does the Disability for which Accommodation is requested have to be related to the Workers’ Compensation Claim?
No. The disability does not have to be work-related. Disability Accommodations are governed by laws outside of workers’ compensation law. Disability Accommodation is governed by Title II of the Americans With Disability Act of 1990(ADA.) Also, the California Civil Code Sections 54 and 54.8 apply as well. The purpose of Title II is to protect qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in services, programs, and activities provided by State and Local Government entities.
In sum, as long as you have a qualified disability, you are eligible for services. In sum, disability need not be a work-related in order to request a reasonable accommodation.
What types of Disabilities can be accommodated?
Common disabilities that are accommodated include
- Hard of Hearing
- Speech Impairment
- Vision Impairments
- Wheelchair Access
Is there any limitation concerning Disability Accommodation?
Yes. The accommodation must be a “reasonable accommodation.” Reasonable could mean many things. Reasonable could apply to the cost of the accommodation. Reasonable could apply if the accommodation would severely impact the proceedings by creating unreasonable delays in the process.
- FINANCIAL: If a request for accommodation would create an undue financial burden, then an accommodation can be denied.
- ADMINISTRATIVE: If an accommodation would create an administrative burden or it would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program or activity provided.
What are Examples of Possible Accommodations?
VISION DISABILITIES: accommodations can be made such as the provision such as Braille, Large Print, Computer Disc, and Cassette Tape. Additionally, you can request that forms be read to you.
DEAF/HARD OF HEARING/SPEECH IMPAIRED: accommodations may be had with the provision of an assisted listening system, computer-aided transcription system, or sign language interpreter. Also, a Computer Assisted Real Time Captioning is available in hearing proceedings. If you have difficulty with spoken instructions and information, written instructions and information may be available.
COMMUNICATIONS: DWC staff may also help you with your questions through the use of written notes or a computer terminal.
MOBILITY: accommodations have been made for individuals who have had difficulty making appearances to the WCAB due to their disabilities. Arrangements have been made for them to appear via the internet on programs such as SKYPE. One Judge allowed an appearance telephonically.
SERVICE ANIMALS: Per the DWC, services animals are always welcome
RESCHEDULING OF HEARINGS: Hearings or Conferences may be rescheduled to accommodate accessible transportation or medication schedules.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: If an individual is a wheelchair user, a wheelchair accessible hearing room will be made available
ASSISTANCE IN WRITING OR FILLING OUT FORMS: Assistance in writing and filling out forms. The DWC noted that if individuals have a speech disability, cognitive disability, learning disability, or biological brain disease, a request can be made with assistance in filling out forms and with having written information explained to you. It should be noted, however, that by law, clerks and Information and Assistance Officers cannot provide legal advice.
As an Attorney, Have You Ever Participated in a Case involving Disability Accommodations? What was it like?
Yes. I have participated in a number of Trials involving the need for disability accommodation. The cases I have involved in have related to mobility disabilities. In one case, I had an out-of-state wheelchair bound injured worker who could not appear in person. In another case, I had an injured worker who had a serious medical condition which required him to be near a hospital in the event he required immediate medical attention.
In both cases, the Injured Worker appeared via a Skype-like computer program. They were capable of viewing the courtroom via a computer camera as well as hear what was going on in the courtroom. The camera, however, can only be placed facing the attorneys or the Judge. It cannot be with both at the same time. Overall, all parties felt that the Injured Worker had a fair opportunity to be heard and the Defendant had a fair opportunity to cross-examine the Injured Worker.
The most important aspect of this type of accommodation was that it was done well in advance of the hearing. This allowed the DWC staff to troubleshoot as to whether it would work successfully. Even with the trouble-shooting, there were always some last minute adjustments that needed to be made.
It should be noted in all of the cases that the DWC staff acted very professionally and I was impressed by the concern and diligence placed upon this important task.
How Does One Make a Request for Accommodation?
Disability Accommodations can be made in the form of an oral request upon the District Office of the statewide disability accommodation coordinator. Also, there are forms available from the disability accommodation coordinator to do so.
Are There Any Timelines to make a request?
Per the DWC, a request for reasonable accommodation should be made as soon as possible. For an assistive listening device or computer-aided transcription, the request should be made at least five days in advance of the day the accommodation is needed.
How do I contact the local District Office locations to get accommodations?
The following are the Workers’ Compensation District Office Disability Accommodation Coordinators.
Location Phone Number
- Anaheim 714-414-1805- X4029
- Bakersfield 661-395-2976
- Eureka 707-445-6519
- Fresno 559-445-5916
- Goleta 805-968-4158
- Long Beach 562-590-5026
- Los Angeles 213-576-7796
- Marina Del Rey 310-482-3864
- Oakland 510-622-2884
- Oxnard 805-485-3588
- Pomona 909-469-1601 X 2635
- Redding 530-225-2201
- Riverside 951-782-4344
- Sacramento 916-928-3130
- Salinas 831-443-3059
- San Bernardino 909-383-6351 X 8373
- San Diego 619-767-2170 X 3404
- San Francisco 415-703-4996
- San Jose 408-277-1124
- San Luis Obispo 805-596-4159
- Santa Ana 714-558-4635
- Santa Rosa 707-576-2605
- Stockton 209-948-7982
- Van Nuys 818-901-5063 X 3545
For the Hard of Hearing, there is the California Relay Service by dialing 711 or
- 1-800-735-2929 (TTY/English)
- 1-800-855-3000 (TTY/Spanish)
The State-Wide Coordinator’s Number is
Besides the WCAB and DWC, Are there Other Ways of Getting Accommodations?
Yes. Sometimes the parties to a claim may be able to work on accommodation. In one circumstance, with respect to a disabled witness, I agreed with the Defense Attorney to depose her rather than force them to appear at a Trial setting. This person had a very bad heart condition. At Trial, the deposition transcript was offered in lieu of her testimony. Also, depositions can be videotaped. It would have been possible that the parties could agree to offer a videotaped deposition into evidence.
As an Injured Worker, Where Can I Get Advice?
If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. They have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their worker’s compensation cases for 26 years. Contact us today for more information.