In the 1940’s and 50’s large Rubella epidemics led to the birth of many seriously handicapped children. The severest disability was deafblindness. Dr David Pitt, then Paediatrician at the Children’s Cottages in Victoria, challenged the notion that deafblindness inevitably led to intellectual disability. On a trip to the UK, he admired the work being done there by the UK Deaf-blind and Rubella Children’s Association, and in 1962 he gathered a group of 10 parents of deafblind children whom he felt had unrecognised intellectual potential.
At the same time Eddie Keir, Chief Audiologist at the Royal Children’s Hospital was also working with a separate group of Rubella families. He instigated a home-based multi-sensory training program, which provided rapid improvement in the social and communication skills of their deafblind children.
In 1967, at the instigation of Dr. Pitt, the families of both groups of parents got together, leading to the legal registration of “The Victorian Deaf Blind and Rubella Children’s Association,” of which Mr. Keir was a foundation member.
In a major coup for the Association, a residential facility and Special Education Centre opened at Mornington in Kew, providing training for people with deafblindness and multiple disabilities. Continuing to prosper through the 1970s, the Association appointed its first professional staff member and directed its efforts towards providing group homes for long-term residential care. During this time, the Association commenced fundraising, which to this day injects vital funds into its services and programs.
During the 80’s, group homes were opened in Glen Waverley, Moorabbin and Croydon to offer people with deafblindness greater independence in a safe and nurturing environment. In 1984, the Association changed its name to The Deafblind Association, to reflect the support it was now offering to all people with deafblindness, not just those affected by rubella.
Thanks to the hard work and determination of members, donors and people with deafblindness themselves, The Deafblind Association propelled forward during the 1990s, securing greater governmental funding. The Association was then able to launch the Recreation and Community Support programs and opened group homes in Mitcham, Heidelberg and Bonbeach.
2000 and beyond
It became clear over the years, that the specialised communication techniques which were developed for deafblind people were equally applicable to people with other severe disabilities. Accordingly, the Association began to take into their Community Residential Units people with complex disabilities who also needed to maximise their communication abilities.
This focus on extending the abilities of each individual led to the Association changing its name to be “Able Australia” in 2006.
Since then, the organisation has grown rapidly, branching out into Tasmania in 2006 and the Australian Capital Territory in 2011. In 2012, Able Australia established offices in Queensland to provide a diverse range of community services to assist some of the state’s most disadvantaged people to remain socially connected to their community. This was followed by an expansion of our Deafblind Services into South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland in 2014.
Today, our comprehensive service and support networks reach more than 5000 Australians. We employ more than 500 people and are supported by over 300 volunteers who are passionate about ensuring every person we support is seen, heard, respected, valued and connected.