12 March 2024


Life Without Barriers is contributing to reshaping disability leadership by partnering with the Disability Leadership Institute (DLI) to bring on a Co-CEO Intern, offering a senior leader with a disability the opportunity to co-lead one of Australia’s largest disability service organisations.

Debbie Heron has joined Claire Robbs at the helm of one of Australia’s largest and most trusted not-for-profits, working together to drive inclusion for people with disability in the care sector.

Debbie Heron, the Co-CEO Intern at Life Without Barriers said she is sincerely privileged to spend time co-learning from Claire and the team and is motivated to be a part of and create transformational change.

“I’ve always believed that your circumstances don’t determine where you can go, they simply show you where you can start,” Ms Heron said.

“Being born at 24 weeks with the common trajectory for this period meaning I’d be unlikely to have the opportunities to live the life my brother and sisters could aspire to; I’ve seen that transformational change can happen when people challenge their views of themselves and others.

Image: Debbie faces the camera wearing glasses, a pink blazer and a white shirt.

“After struggling to get meaningful employment in my early years, I think it’s important to bring a perspective to employment and promoting people with disability. We know people with disability work hard, effectively, and efficiently - that’s not the barrier, it’s about having belief, imagination and expectation and that’s what drives me.

“Having the ability to recognise people with disability in senior leadership, or in this case the top job, is essential to showing others what is possible. Throughout my employment in the disability sector, I’ve found that what I assumed made me ‘less than’ which is my disability – makes me an asset.

Claire Robbs, Chief Executive of Life Without Barriers said the care sector is in a perfect position to drive the change needed in employment for people with disability and ensure boards, and senior leadership positions are representative of our communities.

“More than 20% of our population are people with disability, yet leadership roles are lagging in representation of lived experience in disability.

“The Disability Leadership Institute has made it so accessible for us to welcome Debbie as an intern. I know that I and our organisation will learn so much from her knowledge and experience.

“The best way an organisation can demonstrate their commitment to employing people with disability into leadership roles is to do it themselves. We want more people with lived or direct experience which is similar to the experiences of people we support in our leadership and that includes the top job,” Ms Robbs said.

“As we work together over the year, Debbie and I will co-learn from one another and I am so looking forward to that journey.

Debbie is an experienced, passionate and strategic leader with an extensive understanding of how to foster inclusive environments and systems across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Debbie actively contributed to initiatives such as the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability and the National Disability Insurance Agency and has recently completed the Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders at Stanford University in California.

Life Without Barriers is committed to creating change for people with disability, by people with disability. The Life Without Barriers 2022-2025 Access Inclusion and Employment Plan (AIEP) commits the organisation to improving access and creating employment without barriers for people with disability within their organisation and by using their influence to see other organisations do the same. Central to the AIEP is the target to have 15% of its workforce comprised of people who identify as having a disability in the next three years.

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