Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Pub. L. No. 93-112, 87 Stat. 394 (Sept. 26, 1973), codified at 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., is American legislation that guarantees certain rights to people with disabilities. It was the first U.S. federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Section 504 accommodations address non-discriminatory access for individuals with disabilities or health conditions. It is not education law, but rather civil rights law applied, in this case, to the educational setting.
Disability Under Section 504
Any person who (a) has a physical or mental impairment, which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, (b) has a record of such an impairment, or (c) is regarded as having such an impairment. Creating an exhaustive list of major life activities becomes difficult, however includes the concepts of caring for one's self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, learning, or access the environment due to physical, medical, or other bodily functions.
Qualified individuals with disabilities are persons who, with Reasonable Accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job for which they apply or obtain. Reasonable Accommodation means an employer is required to take reasonable steps to accommodate one's disability, unless it would cause the employer undue hardship.
When applied to students in public education the language broadly prohibits the denial of public education participation, or enjoyment of the benefits offered by public school programs because of a child’s disability. Section 504 requires school districts to provide Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to students with disabilities.
Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) also applies to K-12 schools, the existence of IDEIA does not mean the Rehabilitation Act is superfluous. IDEIA only protects a subset of children and youth who have disabilities—those who satisfy its specific definition for a child with a disability. IDEIA is strictly an educational law that addresses curriculum and instruction alongside the other supports needed by an individual with a disability.
Regardless of the child's disability, the school district must identify the child's educational needs and provide any regular or special education to satisfy the child's educational needs just as well as it does for the children without disabilities. To accomplish this, districts may develop an education plan for the child. When done so under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, it is a 504 Individualized Accommodation Plan (IAP). This 504 plan covers accommodation, services, and support the child will be receiving in order to have access to education at school. A 504 plan is different and less detailed than an Individualized Education Program (IEPs) offered through IDEIA/Special Education.
Roseanne Armendariz, Director of Special Education Dept. Laura Dettman, At- Risk Secondary Coordinator
Extracurricular activities, sports, and after-school programs
Because Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability; the protections also support civil rights for eligible students outside of the instructional day for school-sponsored activities. Section 504.
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), passed in 1990, seems to pick up where the Rehabilitation Act left off. Borrowing from the §504 definition of disabled person, and using the familiar three-pronged approach to eligibility (has a physical or mental impairment, a record of an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment), the ADA applied those standards to most private sector businesses, and sought to eliminate barriers to disabled access in buildings, transportation, and communication. To a large degree, the passage of the ADA supplants the employment provisions of §504 and reinforces the accessibility requirements of §504 with more specific regulations.