The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired was established in Austin by the Sixth Texas Legislature on August 16, 1856, as the Asylum for the Blind, with five members of the board of trustees appointed by Gov. Elisha M. Pease. The first location of the school was the leased residence of Mr. W. L. Hill, west of the University of Texas on San Gabriel Street. That location is now the site of the Neill-Cochran House Museum.
Dr. S. W. Baker, family doctor and close personal friend of Governor Pease, was the first superintendent. By 1857, three students were in attendance. Parents of the students paid tuition and expenses, but as needed, the tuition and expenses of the students were met by the school.
The second location of the school was Block 71 of the area long known as Little Campus, now Heman Sweatt Campus, at the University of Texas. The main school building is now known as the Arno Nowotny Building. The cost of the new facilities was $12,390.00 and was completed in late 1857.
In 1905 the legislature changed the name to Blind Institute, and in 1915 the name Texas School for the Blind was adopted. White, including Spanish-speaking, children between the ages of six and nineteen were admitted by direct application to the superintendent. A five dollar a week fee for incidentals was required of those able to pay; indigents were taken free of charge. By legislative provision there was no charge for board.
In 1917 the institution was moved to its present location at 45th Street and Lamar Blvd, made possible by appropriations of the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-fifth legislatures for the erection of buildings on the campus donated by citizens of Austin. Continued appropriations have expanded the physical plant and kept it in excellent condition. The school is built on the cottage plan, with the main school building in the center. By 2010 a complete remodeling of the campus was in progress and expected to be completed by 2012.
The mission of the institution is to provide all blind and visually impaired students in Texas, including those with additional disabilities or deafblindness, with the skills and knowledge to enjoy fulfilling and satisfying lives. A twelve-grade school offers courses of study in academic subjects similar to those offered in public schools. Summer school and other short-term programs are offered for academic and social enrichment of blind and visually impaired public school students. Outreach programs at TSBVI provide services statewide, including support for parents, teacher training, and a loan program for assistive technology.
The Texas School for the Blind, in Austin, was transferred to the Texas Education Agency in 1953 by the Fifty-third Legislature. The school is an independent school district and participates in state and county scholastic appropriations.
In the late 1960s the school was integrated and consolidated with the all-black Texas Blind and Deaf School (formerly called the Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School). As of 1994 it was governed by a nine-member board, appointed by the governor for six-year overlapping terms. State law requires that three board members must be blind or visually impaired, three the parents of a blind or visually impaired person, and three experienced in working with blind or visually impaired persons. The current name was adopted in 1989.