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Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children

A Brief History

1860 "Deaf and Dumb Institution,152 Liverpool Street, near South Head Road. This institution is to be conducted by Mr Thomas Pattison late secretary and treasurer of the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb Benevolent Society. The school will open on Monday 22nd October. The religious meeting of the Mute Adults commences on Sunday the 28th instant. Worship at 2pm and 6pm" After the appearance of the above advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald Oct 15 1860,seven deaf children were enrolled in the fledgling school that was eventually to become The Royal New South Wales Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.

1861 The school relocated in larger premises at 368 Castlereagh Street, Sydney and was officially declared a Public Institution on October 1

1868 Increased enrolments with children coming from as far afield as Tasmania, Queensland and New Zealand, necessitated another move to larger premises"on the heights of Paddington"in Old South Head Road.

1869 The first blind children to receive specialist services were enrolled, they numbered 5 in all. The Institution underwent the first of a number of name changes and became known as 'The New South Wales Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and the Blind'. Mr Cashmore, himself blind, was employed to teach the blind children.

1870 The Institution was given a Government Grant of 2,000 pounds and 5 acres of land at Newtown (later known as Darlington) Mr Samuel Watson was appointed superintendent. He was to serve the Institute for 40 years.

1872 The new building at Darlington was occupied in February and remained the Institution's home for 90 years.

1873 Samuel Watson began evening classes for deaf adults. He believed that if children grew up within a group segregated from the mainstream of society, they would need continuing support in dealing with new experiences they faced as adults in the wider community.

1880 The Public Education Act made general education"free, secular and compulsory" but made no provision for deaf and blind children.The Institution undertook a steady campaign for compulsory education for all. Despite many appeals, the government stood firm on its decision not to pass such an Act.It was to take until 1944 for education for deaf and blind children, between the ages of six and eleven years, to become compulsory.

1900 Rubella(German Measles)was rampant in New South Wales. Four years later, enrolments increased sharply. It was unknown at that time that deafness and blindness in children was a direct result of Rubella-infected pregnant women.This discovery was to take place 40 years later through research carried out by Sir Norman Gregg.

1908 Alice Betteridge was enrolled as a student.She was the first deaf-blind child to receive an education in Australia.

Photo - Alice circa 1910

1911 Harold Earlam succeeded Samuel Watson as superintendent. A progressive educationalist, Earlam introduced the notion that deaf children could be taught to speak.For blind students,he extended the use of braille within the school and ensured that the most suitable braille books were imported and the latest braille equipment was purchased.

1943 The Institution in accordance with trends overseas adopted a policy of segregating deaf children from those who were blind. A school for blind children was established at Wahroonga.

1948 Student numbers reached 242, half of whom were in the junior age range due to a second rubella epidemic four years earlier.

1951 Her Majesty,the Queen honoured the Institution by conferring upon it the prefix "Royal". The Act of Incorporation was consequently amended and the name became The Royal New South Wales Institution for Deaf and Blind Children.The word 'dumb' was deleted.

1959 The Board of Directors, being acutely aware of the inadequacies of the Wahroonga School and the now unsuitable environment of the Darlington premises, purchased land at North Rocks and commenced building the complex known as the Deaf and Blind Children's Centre.

1960Centenary of the Institution.

1963 The Deaf and Blind Children's Centre at North Rocks was officially opened by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Eric Woodward.

1965 The Institution entered into a partnership with the Department of education to provide the first service for deaf-blind children in the Southern Hemisphere.

1967This was a year of growth and development. A pre school for deaf-blind children was established, a parent counselling service was provided and additional sporting and recreational facilities were built.

1970 The Parent Counselling service was expanded to embrace the the families of blind pre-schoolers. A program for deaf-blind children who were found to be ineducable by Department of Education standards was opened.The students in this unit made great gains and reached goals once thought not possible.

1973 A long-term joint research project between Macquarie University and the Institution was commenced.The focus of research was on speech, communication and language comprehension.

1974 A further name change resulted in the word "Institution" being replaced by "Institute".

Throughout the early 1970s, the Institute turned its attention to the specific educational needs of multi-handicapped children. Following intensive investigations both within Australia and abroad, a pilot program was commenced which led, in 1974, to the establishment of the first school in Australia for multi-handicapped blind children. Known as The Special School for Multi-Handicapped Blind Children, the school provided accommodation as well as medical, educational and therapeutic facilities.

1978 The first computerised braille production unit in Australia was established at the Institute. Today the Institute produces braille, large print and tactile diagrams.

1980 Increased enrolments and demand for the specialist services provided by the special school for Multi-Handicapped Blind Children necessitated major extensions to the school which were officially opened by the Prime Minister of Australia, The Right Hon. Malcolm Fraser.

1983 An expansion of the services for adolescent multi-handicapped blind students was undertaken.

1985/86 A separate Junior Department in the Special School for Multi-Handicapped Blind Children was established, followed in 1986, by the creation of a post school placement service which assisted families of students secure vocational and residential placements on their departure from the Institute.

1989 As the decade of the 80s came to an end the Institute embarked on initiatives in the education of children with sensory impairments. Early childhood services xpanded with the establishment of Homestart- an enlarged home visiting service for children from birth to school age. The Outreach Program saw specialist staff conduct seminars in Wollongong for the benefit of parents and professionals . This service now extends to many major country centres.

1990The Garfield Barwick School at North Parramatta was officially opened by the Premier of New South Wales, Nick Greiner. The new school provided an oral program for profoundly and severely hearing-impaired children where speech is the method of communication and where students are progressively integrated with support into mainstream schools. Housed within the Garfield Barwick School, the Rockie Woofit Pre-school, a pre-school for both hearing impaired children and children with normal hearing, was also established. This was the first reverse integration program established by the Institute.

1991 The Special School for Multi-Handicapped Children enroled deaf and hearing impaired students with additional disabilities and the school was renamed the Alice Betteridge School.

1992 The establishment of the Tingira Centre at Lake Macquarie in the Hunter Region. This was the Institute's first major regional undertaking and provided a base in the Hunter for Early Childhood Services. The Tingira Centre offers both pre-school and long-day care programs on a reverse mainstream enrolment basis. A Homestart service is conducted from the centre.

1993 In response to community needs, the Institute established the Roberta Reid Centre, a pre-school for deaf children and hearing children of deaf parents for whom Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN) is their first language. The Thomas Pattison Annexe also opened in this year. Here, students from K-12 are able to access education in their first language AUSLAN. this was to be a particularly busy year as construction was also started on a new Early Childhood Centre at Glenmore Park near Penrith. This new centre will provide services to children with vision and/or hearing impairments in the western region of Sydney. ©1998