A Word From Drew: P2P Peer Mentor

A Tribute to Elizabeth Hastings on her 75th Birthday

This is a tribute to Australia’s first disability discrimination commissioner, 

It’s not just Google that would like to pay tribute to Elizabeth Hastings, but here at Parent to Parent we would like to extend our thanks for how Miss Hastings helped create a more empowering environment for people with disabilities during her time and how her empowerment can still be felt through Australian men and women with a disability. 

Born to mother Jean and father Stuart Hastings, Elizabeth as a child was said to have been bright, sociable and energetic. In 1957 her family migrated from London England to Melbourne Australia.  The process was quite difficult because as a young girl Elizabeth contracted Polio which caused her for a time to access a wheelchair for mobility.

Her parents had a difficult time getting her to Australia and Elizabeth’s father had a friend in the Australian Government, which helped get Elizabeth’s immigration. This moment had a profound impact on Elizabeth’s future dedication to help people who face discrimination for their disability, and to try and make people more visible to people with disabilities. 

“It was hard to hang on to my sense of my own self when other people’s picture of me was so strong.
In fact, for a lot of the time I believed the outside world rather than myself, and this made me very unhappy.
I imagine a lot of you have felt the same way at times; inside yourself you know something true about who you are, but those outside do not seem to see that part of you, and you begin to wonder who’s right.”

Elizabeth Hastings (Finding Your Own Shape)

For several years Elizabeth would receive her education at a special school, though she claimed this was a forced factor due to her disability. Elizabeth would go on to complete secondary school at an all-girls school in Melbourne, she would study psychology at the University of Melbourne and would choose a career as a psychologist for the next 20 years of her life. 

“The constant experience of not being seen as a real girl, a real teenager, a real young woman.
Instead I was seen as brave or determined or strong, different, certainly not gorgeous” 

Elizabeth Hastings (Finding Your Own Shape)

Elizabeth remembers the moment she was determined to showcase her own voice. She gave a five-minute presentation at a conference of psychologists in 1978 that was preceded by a forty-minute speech by a woman without a disability who was to speak on behalf of people with disabilities. When it came time for Elizabeth to speak she let everyone know her anger at this choice, but felt fear at showing this during her presentation. Her fears were put to rest when the audience by and by agreed with her frustrations. 

This speech got her invitations to numerous organisations that worked with people with disabilities, and throughout the years she would continue to play a part in creating a change to human rights for people with disabilities. She became the inaugural Commonwealth Human Rights Commission between 1981-1986.  Her travel around Australia to make an impact on law and institutions. 

In December of 1992 Elizabeth received a phone call from the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Office to offer her the role of Disability Discrimination Commissioner. Elizabeth accepted and used the role to continue to educated Australians on the importance of recognising more equity for people with disabilities.  She worked with  comities to help design more strategies to ensure the best welfare for people with disabilities. 

“It is my belief that most people want to provide an environment as free from discrimination as possible, and the more they know about the Act, the more confident and able they will be to meet its requirements.
I hope this will enable individuals, perhaps through their peak organisations, to contribute to the creation of guides to good practice, and to the development of Disability Standards in certain areas.”

Elizabeth Hasting (Reform, December 1993, Issue No 66) 

Post this term Elizabeth continued to play a part in breaking down more barriers for people with disabilities, as she would become manager of the Social Justice and Responsibility Unit of the Uniting Church of Victoria. 

In 1998 Elizabeth Hastings passed away after her battle with Breast Cancer. Her dedication to disability discrimination would have effects that would continue to echo years after her passing, through countless Disability organisations in Australia, and through the NDIS.

 “People with disabilities are aware that when others get to know us our disability disappears as a significant feature of the relationship; similarly, when we are employed in a job or task, or participating in the daily activities of any citizen, the disability ceases to be important.”

Elizabeth Hastings (Reform, December 1993, Issue No 66)