Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) is a civil rights statute that prohibits organizations and employers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The statute defines a disability broadly as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Section 504 protects the rights of individuals with disabilities to participate in, and have equal access to, program benefits and services offered by organizations and employers.
In schools, Section 504 ensures that students with a disability receive equal access to education through the implementation of “accommodations.” An accommodation should allow the student to manage his or her disability with minimal to no disruption to learning. For example, a student with a cochlear implant may receive an FM system as an accommodation.
In grades K-12, schools convene an educational team to determine how best to meet eligible students’ needs through the implementation of educational accommodations. Section 504 does not require schools to prepare a written plan, however, schools typically describe the educational accommodations that the student will receive in a document called a 504 plan.
The Office of Civil Rights enforces Section 504 at all private and public schools and colleges that receive federal dollars. Both private and public colleges must provide appropriate educational accommodations to eligible students.
Unlike elementary and high school, when students enter college there are no educational team meetings where school personnel and parents collaborate to determine the educational accommodations a student needs. Further, there are no 504 plans either. Instead, students must work with the Office of Disability Services to develop an agreement that documents the accommodations the student will receive.
In most schools, it is the student’s responsibility to inform faculty and staff of their disability, the disability’s effects on his or her education, and the educational accommodations that will address those effects.