The circle of Stepping Into: alumnus-turned-supervisor Debbie Heron

Thu 30 September 2021

Students with disability who participate in Stepping Into often reap the benefits throughout their career. No-one knows this better than Debbie Heron, Stepping Into alumnus who has now moved into a managerial position and was a supervisor for Stepping Into interns at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

“I think Stepping Into was honestly the catalyst for everything that I’ve done after it. I would really encourage any employee that’s thinking about it – do it, you will not regret it.”

In 2005, during its pilot year, then third-year law student Debbie Heron was searching for internships. While she received positive feedback throughout job interviews, she found it challenging progressing beyond that.

In the back of her mind, Debbie recalls wondering if her disability was impacting the way employers were perceiving her. During a late-night Google search, she came across AND’s Stepping Into program.

Debbie says it was a blessing. “This could be the answer to my prayers,” she recalls thinking.

“It was such a pivotal moment for me that I was taken seriously by an organisation.”

Following her internship, she applied for a graduate program at the same organisation and was successful in securing the placement.

“I felt safe. I felt supported and I felt that I was taken seriously and that’s exactly what I want for other people with disability.”

Her previous experience as an intern and her lived experience as a person with disability has given her key insights into what experiences she wants to emulate for her interns at the Royal Commission.

“Now that I’m in this managerial position, I want other people with disability to be able to experience what I experienced.”

For her intern Jane, Debbie focused on interview preparation, including mock interviews and addressing selection criteria to assist Jane in getting into a graduate program or work once she finished her degree.

“We just had the best time,” Debbie says. “You could see Jane’s confidence growing day-by-day.”

Jane took minutes and notes, she sat in on meetings and public hearings and assisted preparing for roundtables. Jane even had the opportunity to lead some of the information-based phone calls with various stakeholders.

For Debbie, it was crucial that Jane felt she was part of the team and had support throughout the entire experience, and someone to debrief with afterwards.

Today, Debbie sees Stepping Into as an avenue “where students with disabilities can thrive and can know that they are worth possibly more, than they thought they were before.

“It also provides the employer with this different view set. I think people with disability have a really interesting way of looking at the world, as we have to be resilient and think of things from different angles.”

For any students or jobseekers with disability, Debbie also has some advice to offer – the same advice she offered her intern on their last day together.

“Don’t play small. The world is not better off for you playing small. You need to show yourself to the world and the world deserves to see you. You deserve to be in it. Take any opportunity that comes your way, put yourself out there. You are good enough and organisations will be better off with you in it. So just please, never play small.”

If you’re a student with disability looking to reap the benefits of paid internship, or if you know someone who is, share this out with your networks and encourage students with disability to apply now.