College students, and many campus staff, have questions about the status of pregnant students. Is pregnancy a "disability"? What rights does the pregnant student have to assistance or accommodations, if needed? Which campus resources or offices work with pregnant students?
We've put some thoughts together here to help you understand your rights and guide you to resources at your school.
Do I have rights as a pregnant college student?
The US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) states that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex—including pregnancy and parental status—in educational programs and activities.
All public and private colleges and universities that receive federal funds are obligated to comply with Title IX.
Under Title IX, you might be eligible for "reasonable adjustments" to your academic program that enable you to participate in classes. OCR mentions access to elevators, larger or adjustable desks, and allowing for frequent breaks as academic adjustments. Modifications to class attendance policies might also be a reasonable adjustment. These examples are not exhaustive.
How do I get reasonable adjustments? Which campus office works with pregnant students?
If your pregnancy doesn't have any medical complications, you might be able to arrange for adjustments to your classes directly from the instructor during office hours. Be aware that some professors and instructors aren't familiar with Title IX regulations about reasonable adjustments. Some may not know what to do, while others might be resistant.
Check the Student Handbook to see if it mentions services or offices for pregnant students. Many campuses have a Women's Center, which can be helpful in advocating for reasonable adjustments, or referral to resources. The Student Health Center or Wellness Center might also serve this function. The Dean of Students office is always a good resource, since it engages with all of the offices on campus.
These offices might work collaboratively with the campus Disability Resource/Services office to arrange for equipment, like adjustable desks.
You have a right to straight-forward procedures. The school shouldn't make you jump through hoops just to get an academic adjustment.
Do I need to register with the campus Disability Resources/Services (DRS) office?
Not necessarily. A woman with a "normal" pregnancy isn't considered to be a "person with a disability" as defined by disability law (Section 504 or ADA).
If your pregnancy involves some medical complications that impact one or more of your major life functions, you might be considered "temporarily disabled," and thus eligible to register with DRS. The office would want documentation from your doctor about the medical complications in order to determine how best to serve you.
Many DRS offices have procedures in place for students with temporary disabilities, to provide them with accommodations mentioned above, or others, that help address barriers they encounter in the campus environment. Accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on an individual's circumstances.
Learn more about working with Disability Resources/Services
- Dept. of Education Office for Civil Rights guidance
- The NWLC (National Women's Law Center) fact sheet on College Students gives useful guidance in a Q&A format
Our thanks to L. Scott Lissner of The Ohio State University for some of the information on this page.