The focus of sighted teachers, professionals and others supporting a blind student, often is drawn to what is not possible. It hinders them to see what is possible.
If a sighted person has to think of a way to teach something to a blind or low vision student, it may be pretty hard for him to imagine how this can be done. In a way this person is blind to the possibilities of the blind student.
For the blind student in turn it may be pretty hard to get the confidence and belief that he can actually do something if he is told constantly that this is not possible because he is blind. This often leads to a withdrawn and passive or even defensive attitude.
An article that describes very clearly these effects is "Making Sense of Math", by Alicia Verlager. When Alicia was at school she couldn’t see what was on the board in maths class. Her teacher told her to sit at the front of the class but did nothing to communicate with her. She describes how she would sit in class passively, pretending nothing was wrong and not participating. She barely passed her exams. When she went to college Alicia wrote: "While I felt confident about my abilities in other subjects, I went to college quite certain I would fail math. I had barely passed those high school math courses when I could still read print and use a pencil; how on earth was I going to do math without those basic necessities?
My own anxieties were unfortunately often reinforced by discouraging comments, some blatant and some more subtly offered as 'advice' from other people. Some professors still inform blind students on the first day of class that they 'don't belong in this class', or that they 'might be happier somewhere else'. There are even plenty of people, some of whom should know better, who claim that blind people can't 'do' maths, and many blind and low-vision students are encouraged to waive the math requirement or to substitute some other course." In Alicia’s case, a little research soon produced a list of famous blind mathematicians but this didn't leave her any wiser about how to handle the basics of her lower-level math course. "Something as simple as reading the math problem can seem quite overwhelming at first, let alone surviving a course which prohibits the use of a calculator."
Alicia was able to break through this impasse by taking an active attitude and really participating in sessions, asking questions and making communication happen. She really got the hang of maths and wrote a maths handbook containing tips for teachers.
Negative attitudes can have devastating effects on students who are 12 to 16 years old. Most youngsters do not have the ability at that age to break through such a barrier and may feel that starting to ask questions merely shows that their lack of understanding. By the time they develop the confidence to question their teachers, the damage is done and difficult to mend.