We've just celebrated our 220th birthday! This makes us one of the oldest disability organisations in the world.
SeeAbility was established and became the first school for young blind people in the south of England, with the goal of teaching people with sight loss key skills in the hope they could learn a trade and become self-sufficient. We were founded by four philanthropists:
Samuel Bosanquet Jnr
A partially sighted man coming from a wealthy family, a businessman and owner of what would become Lloyds Bank.
Director of the Bank of England.
An eye surgeon and Fellow of the Royal Society. He is considered one of the founding fathers of modern ophthalmology in Britain.
A tireless worker for many charities, and the first secretary for the school.
The school had 30 pupils, which would become 46 males and 47 females by 1817. Income was raised through donations and sales of goods produced in the workshops.
After 102 years in London, the school's site at the junction of Lambeth and London roads was sold to the Baker Street and Waterloo railway company and the school moved to Leatherhead in Surrey (see photo at the top of the page).
The school was granted Royal Patronage by King George V and became The Royal School for the Blind. In its day the facilities were considered state of the art, although by today’s standards the pupils were cared for in a very institutional manner, living in dormitory-style accommodation and forbidden to mix with members of the opposite sex. There was little incentive to learn even basic daily living skills as everything was done for them.
The entire ethos of The Royal School for the Blind had changed. The dormitories were gradually remodelled into flats, pupils had become residents and were able to mix with one another, and we refocused our energy on enabling the people we supported to achieve independence according to their individual potential.
People who used our services became actively involved in making decisions about how to run their home and their lives. They were encouraged to make informed choices, take responsibility for their lives and develop a realistic understanding of the implications of their actions. The aim was to encourage fuller integration into the wider community and the lifestyles associated with it.
Princess Diana became our Patron and made a number of visits to our services until stepping down in 1996. Since 1999 The Duchess of Gloucester has been our Patron. Chris Anderson, pictured with Princess Diana, is still supported by SeeAbility today.
We changed our operating name to SeeAbility and adopted the ethos: seeing beyond disability. In the two years prior, we had begun expanding our services in community-based settings, helping people with sight loss and disabilities in their own homes.
SeeAbility launched an eye care and vision information service for people who have learning disabilities. In a joint study with RNIB, we found adults with learning disabilities are ten times more likely to have sight problems than others.
In 2013 we began working to prevent avoidable sight loss for this group of people at a much earlier age and launched Children in Focus to transform eye care for disabled children in special schools in England.
Over the last decade
In 2013 SeeAbility began eye testing children in specialist schools and have now tested over 4,000 children – and in 2014 we developed Peer Educator Networks to raise awareness with people with learning disabilities and their supporters about the importance of good eye care.
We have expanded our accommodation and support services across southern England, more than doubling turnover and operating locations. We now have 27 accommodation and support services in locations across southern England, enabling people to live and receive specialist support in their home communities. In 2015 we received our first rating of “outstanding” overall from our regulator The Care Quality Commission (CQC) and in 2017, we expanded our specialist services team of vision rehabilitation workers and speech & language therapists to include positive behaviour support.
In January 2018 we opened our first bespoke service for people with learning disability and/or autism under the ‘transforming care agenda’, in partnership with the people we support; their families; commissioners and housing associations.
We've now celebrated our 220th birthday! This makes us one of the oldest disability organisations in the world.