What Is Section 504?


What Is Section 504?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law designed to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. Section 504 guarantees certain rights to individuals with disabilities, including the right to full participation and access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to all children regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. 

Specifically, the law states:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Section 504 requires the provision of appropriate educational services, services that are designed to meet the individual needs of qualified students to the same extent that the needs of students without a disability are met.  Essentially Section 504 was designed to “level the playing field,” to ensure full participation by individuals with disabilities.

To qualify under Section 504 a student must:

  • Be determined to have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including learning and behavior
  • Have a record of having such an impairment OR
  • Be regarded as having such impairment

How can Section 504 help my child??

Section 504 ensures that a qualified child with a disability has equal access to education.  The child may receive appropriate accommodations and modifications tailored to the child’s individual needs.

What is an “appropriate” accommodation under Section 504?

An appropriate accommodation for a student with a disability under Section 504 could entail 

  • Education in regular classrooms
  • Education in regular classrooms with supplementary services, modifications and/or accommodations
  • Special education and related services OR
  • Any combination of the above

How do I get my child covered under Section 504?

In order to receive services under Section 504, a child must first be determined to have a disability that substantially limits one or more major life functions, including education, learning, and behavior.  Only the school can determine if your child qualifies for accommodations.  Parents seeking to have their child receive services under Section 504 should take the following steps:

  1. Submit a written request to the school asking for an evaluation to determine if there is a significant impact on your child’s learning or behavior.
  2. Request a copy of your School District’s Policies and Procedures on Section 504.  This document may be referred to by various names, including Procedural Safeguards, Parental Rights or something similar. This document will inform you of your and the school’s rights and responsibilities in helping your child receive the accommodations she or he needs.

How do I file a complaint about my school or school district?

Local school districts are responsible for implementing the provisions of Section 504.  However, ultimate responsibility for enforcing these provisions rests with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education.

If you believe that a school or school district has violated this law and efforts at the local level to resolve your complaint have not been successful, you may file a formal complaint with OCR by contacting the nearest state/regional office.  You may also call the OCR Hotline at 1-800-421-3481. A complaint may also be filed using the OCR Online Complaint Form.