Our History

Thomas Pattison, a deaf migrant to Australia from Scotland, established the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children in 1860. We’ve been making a difference in the lives of people with hearing loss and vision impairment ever since.

Photo of Thomas Pattison and Helen Keller

Our 160-year history


Our future

In 2021 we’ll unite under one brand. In 2023, we have exciting plans to move our North Rocks functions to Centres of Excellence in hearing and vision at Macquarie University.


Reaching out

RIDBC officially expands its services to Victoria through merging with Early Education Program for Hearing Impaired Children (EEP) and Taralye – an early intervention, preschool and audiological service provider.


Woman of the Year

RIDBC ENT surgeon, Professor Catherine Birman, wins the 2017 New South Wales Premier’s Award for Woman of the Year. She is one of the most experienced cochlear implant surgeons in the world, having performed over 1,000 cochlear implant surgeries.


SCIC partnership

RIDBC partners with the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre (SCIC) to provide Australia’s largest and most comprehensive cochlear implant program for people of all ages.


A record achievement

Assisting thousands of children each year, RIDBC is now Australia’s largest non-government provider of therapy, education and diagnostic services for children with hearing loss or vision impairment.


A world leader

Professor Gibson becomes the first surgeon in the world to perform 2000 cochlear implant surgeries, making him one of the most prolific surgeons in his field and a world leader in cochlear implantation.


150 years young

RIDBC celebrates its 150-year anniversary with a new tertiary facility for Renwick Centre opened by Her Excellency, Governor Marie Bashir. Chris Rehn is appointed as Chief Executive.

A teacher providing service to children through video conferencing

Teleschool launches

Teleschool (Remote Services) launches, providing services and support to rural and regional Australian families with children who are hard of hearing or vision impaired.

Collage of children and families

Record enrolments

RIDBC reaches a new record: over 600 children and families are enrolled in its services.

Photo of graduates in 1997

Graduation time

The first 13 graduates of Renwick College receive their Masters, awarded by the University of Newcastle.

The opening of Renwick Centre with Greg, Sir Garfield and the Governor and his wife

Renwick College launches

Renwick College and reverse integration programs are launched. Seventeen students commence in the Master of Special Education (Sensory Disability) program.

1992 Roberta Reid Centre Opening

The Roberta Reid Centre

In response to community needs, RIDBC establishes the Roberta Reid Centre, an Auslan preschool for deaf children and hearing children of deaf parents for whom Australian Sign Language (Auslan) is their first language.


Regional expansion

Regional services begin. A pre-school providing Early Childhood services in the Hunter Region, named The Tingira Centre, opens as RIDBC’s first major regional undertaking. The Itinerant Teaching Service – where specific support is given to students with hearing loss and/or vision impairment from independent schools – is established.

1989 students studying in class with books

A revolution in schooling

Early Childhood outreach services, home programs and mainstream schooling commence. Garfield Barwick School at North Parramatta is officially opened by New South Wales Premier, Nick Greiner. The new school provides an oral program for profoundly deaf and hard of hearing children.


The bionic ear

Professor Bill Gibson operates on four-year-old Holly McDonell, the first child in the world to receive a bionic ear. This bold step enables children around the world to receive the gift of hearing and speech.


A cochlear implant first

Sue Walters is the first person in NSW to receive a cochlear implant after losing her hearing to meningococcal meningitis.


Working with Braille

Braille goes digital. The first computerised Braille production unit in Australia is established at the Institute. Today, RIDBC continues to produce Braille, large print and tactile diagrams for students, supporting over 400 children who are blind or have low vision.

Early intervention 1965

Partnership established

Early intervention begins. RIDBC partners with the Department of Education to provide the first service for deafblind children in the Southern Hemisphere.

North Rocks opens

North Rocks opens

The North Rocks premises of RIDBC is officially opened by the Governor of NSW, Sir Eric Woodward.

Alice Betteridge and Helen Keller

Hellen Keller visits

Helen Keller visits RIDBC and meets Alice Betteridge. RIDBC student numbers reach 242.

Harold Earlam

Harold Earlam

Harold Earlam introduces new techniques for teaching deaf children, improves access to braille equipment and teaching for blind students, and begins an important campaign for the compulsory education of deaf and blind children.

Alice Betteridge

Alice Betteridge

Alice Betteridge, RIDBC’s first deafblind student, enrols. She attends the school until 1921.

Ormond House, Paddington

Expansion of services

Specialist services expand to include support for blind children.

Thomas Pattison

School for the Deaf established

Thomas Pattison, a deaf migrant to Australia from Scotland, opens the first school for deaf children in Sydney.

Crunching the numbers

  • Our oldest active client is 102 years old.
  • We have 94 clients over the age of 90 that have had appointments this year.
  • We delivered 43,501 client appointments in 2019, compared to 22,678 appointments in 2016 (nearly doubled!)
  • More than 10,000 people are supported by RIDBC.
  • More than 1,000 children have received support via early learning programs.
  • Currently, we are seeing a total of 619 clients with a CALD background.
  • Over 430 hearing implant surgeries have been performed.
  • Since its inception, SCIC has helped 4917 people with hearing loss.
  • More than 4,500 cochlear implant recipients have received ongoing support from our Cochlear Implant Program.
  • 15 of Australia’s and the world’s top Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeons work with RIDBC as of 2020.
  • 227 students have enrolled in RIDBC postgraduate courses.
  • Online seminars pertaining to 60 different subjects have been streamed globally.
  • 50,000 students have completed a CPE course or webinar since 1995.
  • As of mid-2020, there have been 1100 postgraduate awards issued.
  • There are 141 different roles at RIDBC across a total of 449 staff members.