Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
“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.”
—29 U.S.C. § 794—
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education. Section 504 establishes a student’s right to full access and participation to education and all school-related activities and require schools provide appropriate services to meet the individual needs of qualified students.
A student is considered “qualified” under Section 504 if the student is between the ages of 3 and 22 years of age and has a disability, which is defined as a physical or mental impairment that 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. Some examples of impairments that may substantially limit major life activities, even with the help of medication, aids or devices are: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, allergies, blindness or visual impairment, deafness or hearing impairment, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, and mental illness.
With the passage of the ADA Amendments Act in 2008, Congress expanded the scope of "major life activities” and clarified that a disability determination under the ADA and Section 504 should not demand extensive analysis, which is why the ameliorating effects of mitigating measures (other than ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses) are no longer considered when making a determination.
In addition to providing required services and program modifications, school districts are also required to have written procedures regarding their administration of services under Section 504. These procedural safeguards include notice of the law and its applicability, an opportunity for students and their parents or guardians to examine relevant records, an impartial hearing with the student’s parents or guardians and representation by counsel, and a review procedure. The procedural safeguards used to comply with IDEA are one means of meeting this requirement.
Local school districts are responsible for implementing the provisions of Section 504. However, ultimate responsibility for enforcing the law 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 your efforts to resolve your complaint at the local level have not been successful, you may file a formal complaint with OCR by contacting the regional office.
U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights
500 W. Madison Street, Suite 1475
Chicago, Illinois 60661-4544
Telephone: (312) 730-1560
TDD toll-free: (877) 521-2172
FAX: (312) 730-1576
You may also call the OCR Hotline at 1-800-421-3481 or file a complaint using the OCR Online Complaint Form. Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits. The Section 504 regulations do not contain a requirement that a person file a complaint with OCR and exhaust his or her administrative remedies before filing a private lawsuit.
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. § 794)
- Implementing Regulations: (34 CFR, Part 104)
- Educational Rights and Responsibilities: Understanding Special Education in Illinois (See Chapter 15)
- School Health Program—Illinois Department of Human Services
- Guidance: Recommended Guidelines for Medication Administration in Schools– Under Revision (expected release by August, 2016)
- Assessment Accommodations for Students with Disabilities: IEP and 504
- Self-Guided Tutorial on Section 504
Note: This tutorial was developed by the Florida Department of Education, Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services. The Florida Department of Education has given permission for the ISBE to provide a link to the tutorial on our website. We would like to express our gratitude for allowing us to provide this link. Please note that this tutorial makes references to terminology specific to Florida (i.e. ESE – Exceptional Student Education, FEEA – Florida Educational Equity Act, etc.)
The tutorial includes topics such as: Section 504 Requirements, Procedures for K-12 students, Developing a 504 Plan, Procedural safeguards, Discipline, Comparison of Section 504 and IDEA 2004, Section 504 and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Protection for Postsecondary Students.