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Our History

NextSense has been making a difference in the lives of people with hearing and vision loss since Thomas Pattison opened the very first school for deaf children in Sydney in 1860.
A baby learning to play

Our timeline

We’ve been redefining possibilities for Australians with hearing and vision loss for over 160 years. Here are just some of the milestones and highlights we've celebrated along the way.

2020s

2023 and beyond

In 2023, NextSense will relocate from our North Rocks campus to the Centre of Excellence at Macquarie University, a hub for innovation and advancements in research, education and care in the fields of hearing and vision loss.

2021 - NextSense

In 2021, RIDBC services were aligned under a single brand—NextSense—to ensure we continue to provide integrated, holistic care for the people we support across our broad network.

2020 - Redefining possibilities during a pandemic

RIDBC adapts many services for online delivery during COVID-19. Babies awaiting cochlear implants learn KeyWord Sign, via Zoom, to ensure they don't miss critical language development milestones while cochlear implant surgery is paused due to the pandemic.

2010s

2019 - Reaching more people who need us

RIDBC celebrates a significant milestone, with 10,000 adults, children, families and professionals now accessing its hearing and vision, education and research services. A new centre is opened in Darwin, where the first Indigenous child in the Northern Territory receives a cochlear implant.

2018 - Expanding our footprint

RIDBC expands its services into Victoria by merging with Early Education Program for Hearing Impaired Children (EEP) and children’s early education and hearing services provider, Taralye.

2017 - RIDBC surgeon recognised as Woman of the Year

Leading ENT surgeon and Director of SCIC, Professor Cathy Birman, is awarded NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year, recognising her services to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

2014 - Building Australia’s largest cochlear implant program

RIDBC partners with the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre (SCIC) to create Australia's largest and most comprehensive cochlear implant program.

2013 - Reaching new heights

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 or vision loss.

2012 - A record achievement

Leading surgeon, Professor Bill 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.

2010 - Celebrating 150 years in style

The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children celebrates its 150-year anniversary with a new world-class tertiary facility for the RIDBC Renwick Centre opened by Her Excellency, Governor Marie Bashir.

2000s

2007 - Supporting families in regional and remote Australia

RIDBC Teleschool launches, providing services and support to rural and regional children and their families across the country.

1990s

1997 - The next generation of education professionals

The first class graduates from Renwick College with a Masters in Special Education (Sensory Disability), awarded by The University of Newcastle.

1994 - A new era in research and education

Renwick College opens to advance education and research in the fields of hearing and vision loss. The first class of students commence their Masters in Special Education (Sensory Disability) program.

1993 - Thomas Pattison Annexe

In the Thomas Pattison Annexe, students from kindergarten to year 10 are taught in both Auslan and English.

1992 - Responding to community need

The Roberta Reid Centre is opened. A preschool for deaf children and hearing children of deaf parents for whom Auslan is their first language.

1980s

1989 - A revolution in schooling

RIDBC introduces a range of innovative early childhood and school support programs, and the Garfield Barwick School at North Parramatta is officially opened by NSW Premier, Nick Greiner. The school provides a spoken language program for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The first reverse-integration preschool is opened, the Rookie Woofit Preschool, for children who are deaf or hard of hearing and their hearing peers.

1987 - The first child receives a cochlear implant

Four-year-old Holly McDonell is the first child in the world to receive a cochlear implant. The surgery is performed by Professor Bill Gibson and enables children around the world to gain access to speech and sound.

1984 - A cochlear implant first

Sue Walters, who lost her hearing to meningococcal meningitis, becomes the first person in NSW to receive a cochlear implant.

1970s

1978 - Braille goes digital

The first computerised braille production unit is established at the Institute to produce braille materials for people who are blind or have low vision, a service we continue to provide today.

1974 - A first in Australia

Following intensive investigations both within Australia and abroad, a pilot program commences which leads to the establishment of the first school in Australia for multi-handicapped blind children providing accommodation, medical, educational and therapeutic facilities.

1973 - Research is augmented

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

A further name change results in the “Institution” being replaced by “Institute”.

1960s

1965 - Access to services for children who are deafblind

The institution partners with the Department of Education to provide the first service for deafblind children in the southern hemisphere.

1963 - An official opening

The North Rocks premises of the Royal New South Wales Institution for Deaf and Blind Children are officially opened by the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Eric Woodward.

1950s

1959 - The move to North Rocks begins

The Board of Directors purchases land at North Rocks and commences building the centre now known as Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.

1957 - A new name

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II honours the Institution by conferring the prefix “Royal” in its title. The name becomes The Royal New South Wales Institution for Deaf and Blind Children.

1940s

1948 - Helen Keller visits

American author and activist, Helen Keller, meets with Alice Betteridge, in a momentous meeting that is captured on film.

1910s

1911 - Innovation in education

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

1900s

1908 - First child who is deafblind enrols

Alice Betteridge becomes the first child who is deafblind to enrol as a student. She will go on to become a teacher at the Institution, and will later have a specialist school named in her honour.

1860s

1869 - Vision services introduced

The Institution becomes The New South Wales Institution for the Deaf, Dumb and the Blind. Services are expanded to include education options for children who are blind or have low vision.

1861 - A move to the city

The School relocates to larger premises at 368 Castlereagh Street, Sydney and is officially declared a Public Institution on October 1.

1860 - School for deaf children opens

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

“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.”

Seven children who are deaf are enrolled in the fledgling school after an advertisement was placed in the Sydney Morning Herald. It would eventually become Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.

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