Taking Notes: Eye on Education – English-only program excludes French-speaking guide dog

Taking Notes: Eye on Education – English-only program excludes French-speaking guide dog

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org


A visually-impaired student has won his battle to be admitted to the English immersion summer school program at the University of New Brunswick. Initially the university had barred Yvan Tessier from admission since his guide dog could only understand commands in French. As part of the English-only format of the program, students are not to communicate in any other language during the course and must mingle in the English community. Tessier enrolled in the program and was accepted, but when he later informed the university that he was visually impaired, he was told the university could not properly prepare for his special needs at this time.

The university had asked Tessier to agree to communicate with this guide dog in English, but Tessier claimed it was not possible to do this type of training in a short time. In the university’s response to Tessier, they stated that “some of the program’s academic and administrative requirements were not met, and adequate advance notice of Mr. Tessier’s intent to attend this particular session was not given.”

Although the university advised the student that they could not accommodate his needs for this particular five-week session, they do make special arrangements for visually impaired students when they have sufficient advance warning.

Tessier immediately went to the media and threatened to inform the human rights commission. The Mira Foundation, who had trained Tessier’s guide dog, stated that this was a case of discrimination, that the university only rejected Tessier because he was blind (Edmonton Journal, July 7, 2004).

Several days later the university reversed its ruling, allowing Tessier to attend the program. In a press release, the university stated that “both sides have accepted some responsibility and have made concessions” that were mutually satisfactory.

A review of the admission regulations for the highly-successful immersion program indicates that all participants must agree to sign a pledge to use English only during the program. While it seems that there was insufficient communication on both sides, all too often individuals are very quick to cry “discrimination” when nothing of the sort has occurred. Fortunately the matter has been resolved and Mr. Tessier (and his dog, presumably) will be able to enjoy the benefits of the program.


English-only demand puts university in doghouse. Edmonton Journal, Chris Morris, The Canadian Press, July 7, 2004.

University reverses stand on guide dog, Linnati Gandhi, Montreal Gazette, CanWest News Service, July 8, 2004.

Immersed in English. A review of the University of New Brunswick English program. http://elp.unb.ca/article.htm