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504 Plans

If you’re looking to implement a 504 Plan for your child, being prepared will help you avoid some worry and administration roadblocks. Here are a few tips from parents, professional advocates and educational personnel:

Copyright 2016,  Brighter Pathways.

Note:  This information is for educational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.  Contact a qualified attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal issues related to a 504 plan.

Adapted from information obtained from the following sources:

Switzer, Jacqueline Vaughn. Disabled Rights: American Disability Policy and the Fight for Equality. Georgetown University Press, 2003.

OCR Senior Staff Memoranda, “Guidance on the Application of Section 504 to Noneducational Programs of Recipients of Federal Financial Assistance,” January 3, 1990.

Lynch, William, "The Application of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act to the Internet: Poor E-Planning Prevents Poor E-Performance," 12 CommLaw Conspectus: Journal of Communications Law and Policy 245 (2004).

Moy, Jamine,“Set Your Child Up for Success with a 504 Plan,” WebMD Blogs, Tuesday, July 23, 2013.

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. Section 504 is widely recognized as the first civil-rights statute for persons with disabilities. It took effect in May 1977. Because it was successfully implemented over the next several years, it helped to pave the way for the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Section 504 states (in part):

   “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.”

According to this law, Individuals with Disabilities are:

   "persons with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities."


   "Major life activities include caring for one's self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, and learning."

The law also pertains to any "local educational agency (as defined in section 8801 of Title 20), system of vocational education, or other school system". As applied to K-12 schools, "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."

Because another law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), also applies to K-12 schools, people sometimes mistakenly assume that, with IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act is superfluous. In fact, however, IDEA only protects a subset of children and youth who have disabilities—those who satisfy its definition for "child with a disability" as :

    "Child with a disability means a child . . . having mental retardation, a hearing impairment (including deafness), a speech or language impairment, a visual impairment (including blindness), a serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this part as ‘‘emotional disturbance), an orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, an other health impairment, a specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities, and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services." (Education § 300.8)

Many young people with disabilities do not meet that definition. However, many are protected by Section 504. In addition, Section 504 can be valuable in providing rights to students for issues outside of the school day such as extracurricular activities, sports, and after school care. That is because Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. For example, were a basketball coach to cut a student with a disability from the team simply because he did not want to be bothered by having a player on the team who has a disability, Section 504 is what would offer the student protection against such unjust treatment.

Schools comply with Section 504 with the following process:

  1. Identify students with disabilities;
  2. Evaluate those students;
  3. If the student is eligible, create a written accommodation plan, that is, a "504 Plan".

It is similar to, but often shorter than, the IDEA Individualized Education Program (IEP). Parents, teachers, and school staff are a part of the process. Parents have due process rights; where they disagree with the determinations of the school, they have a right to an impartial hearing.

Violations of Section 504 in the educational environment can be addressed locally with the education agency or with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education. Violations of Section 504 can result in a loss of the federal funding. According to the Department[5] individuals may also enjoy a private right of action for violations of Sec. 504. Thus, Section 504 is enforced by OCR. IDEA, by contrast, is carried out by another unit of the Department - the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

Despite the clear legislation, parents often have to be their child’s educational advocate in ensure that a 504 plan is created and appropriate accommodations for success are included.  To quote, one parent (Ms Moy, referenced below):  

  “Even with the principal and teacher on our side, some administrators thought Andy needing a 504 Plan was “just silly.” They questioned why he needed “special treatment” because he was a smart kid. What they didn’t see was a child who came home from school exhausted nearly every day from the fatigue of psoriatic arthritis. They didn’t see a child who held back the tears of pain after writing for only 10 minutes. They certainly didn’t see that making small changes on their end was not special treatment. And they did not see that a 504 Plan would create big opportunities for Andy to be successful in school.

   “I left that initial meeting feeling dumbfounded. I had to regroup and approach the situation from a legal standpoint. And that’s just what I did, quoting text from the law and explaining that we were not asking for special treatment. With some time, a lot of patience, and many school meetings, Andy’s 504 Plan was put in place.“

Important Notice

The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular concern or problem, including legal issues related to a 504 plan. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an therapist-client relationship between Dr. Messenger/Brighter Pathways and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of Dr. C. Messenger only.  They may not reflect the opinions of other employees or colleagues.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Office for Civil Rights, Washington, D.C. 20201