Not disabled enough
Shocked and disgusted: Prue Hawkins has been denied a disability pension. Picture: Robert Duncan

Former Telethon child Prue Hawkins has been told she is not impaired enough to get the disability support pension.

A leader among WA's disabled community, the 33-year-old wheelchair user has osteogenesis imperfecta - also known as brittle bone disease.

She currently has a broken leg. Despite her severe physical restrictions, she completed a law degree, then worked as a disability discrimination and family lawyer from age 28 to 32.

When her Legal Aid contract ended in February, she reapplied for the DSP, had a face-to-face assessment with Centrelink and started looking for a new job.

The Department of Human Services, which manages Centrelink, confirmed her claim was rejected last week because of her past full-time employment.

New eligibility criteria introduced in 2012 puts more emphasis on an applicant's proved ability to find work.

Shocked and disgusted by the decision, Miss Hawkins is determined to change a system she believes discourages disabled people from contributing to society.

"I was on the pension for 12 years and they told me I'd be able to get back on it if I lost my job," she said. "I didn't know going to university, getting a law degree and wanting to contribute to society would mean I'd be punished.

"This isn't about me getting money - it's about the absolute injustice of this system. There's something very wrong with this picture.

"My friends are all saying, 'If you're not disabled enough, who the hell is'?"

DHS general manager Hank Jongen said the department had followed a "thorough and fair process".

"I want to make it clear that if we do reject a customer's claim, we are not saying the person doesn't have a serious medical condition," he said. "Our role is to consider carefully the medical and other information provided to see if and how their medical condition affects their ability to work."

On learning of the case, Human Services Minister Marise Payne contacted _The Weekend West, _saying she had ordered a review of the decision. Miss Hawkins said the entire eligibility system needed reviewing.

"The way it works right now, it's just a massive disincentive for people with disabilities to pursue employment," she said.

"The Government's always bumping its gums about wanting to get disabled people into the workforce.

"Well, is this not slightly contradictory?

"You go to university and you get a job - that's what people do. You don't sit at home with the curtains drawn and think, 'Poor me, I have a disability'.

"This says to me and the rest of the disability community, 'Naughty girl, you shouldn't have gone to work. You shouldn't have tried so hard. You should have just stayed at home'."

The West Australian

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