Services for people with disabilities were slow to develop under the voluntarist system. Although people with disabilities were accommodated by the Immigrants' Aid Society, most charities sought to enable or compel people to support themselves. The first specialist organisations were educational in intent and focused on children. A school for the deaf, opened by F.J. Rose in 1860, became the Deaf and Dumb Institution (now the Victorian College of the Deaf), which opened on its St Kilda Road site in 1862. Its co-founder, the Rev. William Moss (1828-91), then worked to establish a second asylum, the forerunner of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind (now Vision Australia), which opened nearby in 1867. Although both schools became part of the Education Department's special education services in 1913, the residential facilities continued under charitable control. The Adult Deaf and Dumb Society of Victoria, founded in 1883, and the Association for the Advancement of the Blind, founded in 1895, catered for the graduates of these institutions. All of these organisations were under Protestant control but after World War II the Catholic Church opened its own schools for the blind and the deaf in Kew and Portsea, social organisations for the adult disabled and residential schools for boys and girls with intellectual disabilities.
Early charities for people with physical disabilities reflected an uneasy tension between the desire to educate and the urge to segregate. Segregation was the focus of the Talbot Epileptic Colony which operated on the Monash University site at Clayton from 1907 to 1962. The Yooralla Hospital School, established in 1918, catered for children with physical disabilities, many of whom had been confined in the Children's or Austin hospitals. Awareness of the needs of such children was accentuated following the polio epidemics which occurred between 1937 and 1954 with additional medical, rehabilitation, residential and welfare services developed by the Victorian Society for Crippled Children, founded in 1935. Children with cerebral palsy, excluded from Yooralla because of intellectual disability, were from 1948 catered for by the Spastic Children's Society's schools, hostels, day centres and sheltered workshops. This Society provided the model for specialist organisations which developed after the war with parents rather than subscribers in control. These included community-based services for intellectually disabled children, previously confined within state institutions.
Disability services were revolutionised in the 1970s when 'normalisation' saw large institutions and segregated educational institutions closed down and committees opened to client representation, with notions of charity and deficiency replaced by an assertion of citizenship and rights.