Section 504

A Guide to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

What is Section 504?
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits organizations that receive Federal funds from discriminating against otherwise qualified individuals solely on the basis of a disability.  The U.S. Department of Education Office enforces Section 504 for Civil Rights (OCR).

How Does Section 504 Define "Disability"
A person is considered "disabled" if he/she:

  • has a physical or mental impairments which substantially limits one or more major life activities,

  • has a record of such an impairment, or

  • is regarded as having such an impairment.

A qualifying impairment is one that restricts an individuals major life activity as to the conditions, manner or duration under which the activity can be performed in comparison to most people.  An individual must be restricted to a greater degree than a majority of people in order to qualify for coverage under Section 504.
Eligibility determinations are made based on current needs.  Therefore, mitigating factors (such as glasses, medication, hearing aids) are taken into consideration when determining the degree of the limitation to the life activity.

What is a "Major Life Activity"?
     Major life activities include such things as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself and performing manual tasks.

What Types of Discrimination Does Section 504 Prohibit?

  • Denial of the opportunity to participate in or benefit from a service which is afforded to non disabled students.

  • Provision of opportunity to participate in or to benefit from a service which is not equal to that afforded others.

  • Provision of aids, benefits or services which are not effective as those provided to others.  Equally effective means equivalent, not identical, and must afford an equal opportunity, not equal results.

  • Provision different or separate benefits or services unless such action is necessary to be effective.

  • Aiding or perpetuating discrimination by providing assistance to an organization which discriminates.

  • Denial of the opportunity to participate on a planning or advisory board because of an individual's disability.

  • Otherwise limiting the enjoyment of any right, privilege, advantage or opportunity enjoyed by others.

  • Selecting a site or location which effectively excludes persons with disabilities or subjects them to discrimination.

What Does "Reasonable Accommodation" Mean?
A recipient of Federal fund shall make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified person unless the recipient can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the program or would require a fundamental alteration in the nature of the program.  The accommodation should achieve "meaningful equal opportunity".  Accommodations need to take into account both the functional limitations of the individual and the alternate methods of performing tasks or activities which would permit people of varying abilities to participate without jeopardizing outcomes.

  • Accommodations must be individualized and must be based on the students school record and evaluative data.

  • The individual needs of the person with a disability should be met to the same extent as the needs of the person without a disability are met.

  • Modifications can be made to regular programs or different programs may be provided.

  • Accommodations would place the student with a disability at an equal starting level with the nondisabled student.

How Does Section 504 Define "Appropriate Education"?
A free appropriate education is on provided by the public school which includes regular or special aids and services that (1) are designed to meet the individual educational needs of persons with disabilities as adequately as the needs of the nondisabled persons are met, and (2) are based on adherence to evaluation, placement and procedural safeguard requirements.

Does Section 504 Require Evaluations?
Section 504 requires that a district evaluate any person who, because of a disability, needs or is believed to need special education or related services.
Section 504 does not require that a district mush carry out a full evaluation of a student simply because a parent requests it.  However, refusal by the district to do so constitutes an official action with respect to the student's evaluation and placement, and the district must provide the parent with procedural safeguards.  The evaluation will assess the student's functioning in the area of suspected disability.  The evaluation process will also include a comprehensive review of the student's records and input from the student's teacher(s).

Does Section 504 Require an IEP?
Section 504 requires a written plan describing the recommended placement, accommodations and services.  Although a formal IEP is not required, the decision must be made by a group of persons knowledgeable about the student, about the evaluation results and about placement options.

What Procedural Safeguards Do Parents Have?
Section 504 required that school districts:

  • Provide written assurance of nondiscrimination.

  • Designate an employee to coordinate compliance.

  • Provide grievance procedures to resolve complaints.

  • Provide notice of nondiscrimination in admission or access to its programs or activities.

  • Provides parents/guardians with procedural safeguards which include: notice of their rights, an opportunity to review relevant records and the right to request an impartial hearing.

How Is Section 504 Different from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?
All individuals who are considered disabled under the Individuals with disabilities Education Act are also considered Section 504.  However, many individuals who have been determined to be disabled under Section 504 may not be disabled under IDEA.  In general, students who are eligible under Section 504 only, are those students who have a substantial limitation which requires only a response from the regular education staff, a modification to the regular program or policies or access to services available to all students.

Which Law Takes Precedence?
Schools must comply with both the IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  Compliance with IDEA does not necessarily mean that a district is in compliance with Section 504.  One does not take precedence over the other.

For more information on Section 504, please contact:

Kerri Levine
Director of Pupil Personnel Services
(585) 226-2455 ext 1417