RIDBC was opened on the 22 October, 1860 by deaf Scottish immigrant Thomas Pattison, who was the school's first teacher. Located at 152 Liverpool St Sydney, the school was originally named the "Deaf and Dumb Institution of New South Wales". From its early days it was open to all deaf children, though many were turned away for lack of resources. Sydney was still a young city at the time, with only 80,000 inhabitants; the University of Sydney had been established a mere ten years prior and public education was in its infancy. The school began to take in blind students in 1869, and added the word "blind" to its name. It was predominantly a boarding school, and moved many times within central Sydney to accommodate more students as the school grew, including stints in Paddington and Newtown, before finding its present home in North Rocks in 1962. It currently operates several educational centres around New South Wales and offers some national services.
David Hunter, a former student of the school who had been blind from age 6, was elected as member of the NSW parliament (for Ashfield) when he was 35 and served there for 35 years (1940 - 1976). He was responsible for the passing of an Act in 1944 to make the education of blind and deaf children compulsory. Another well-known student was Alice Betteridge, the first Australian deafblind child to receive an education. She enrolled in 1908 at the age of seven where she learned to read and write, graduating as dux in 1920.
Today there are three specialist schools within RIDBC:
RIDBC also runs a number of early childhood services. These include home based, centre based and remote early education programs for children up to 5 years who have sensory disabilities, as well as five special preschools (RIDBC Hunter, RIDBC Nepean, VisionEd Preschool, Roberta Reid Preschool, Rockie Woofit Preschool) and support for children with sensory disabilities enrolled in mainstream preschools.
In addition to its direct services, RIDBC aims to help as many deaf and blind children as possible through its Renwick Centre, for research and professional education of those educating children with sensory disability. Renwick is conducted in conjunction with the University of Newcastle and offers a range of post-graduate courses (including a Master of Special Education in Sensory Disability) and continuing education activities. Renwick attracts students from across Australia and internationally.
RIDBC is a major Australian charity but relies heavily on Government subsidy and community support to continue its services.