Section 504 protects students with disabilities from discrimination and ensures that they are provided for on par with non-disabled students. Understanding the basics of this law helps parents of disabled children to make informed decisions in advocating on behalf of their disabled child.
What Is Section 504?
Section 504 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It is a civil rights law which mandates that the needs of disabled students are met in a manner consistent with those of non-disabled students. Section 504 protects students with disabilities from discrimination and ensures that schools make their programs both accessible and usable for disabled students.
Section 504 Definition of "Disability"
A child must have a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities to be eligible for protection under Section 504. A child meeting this qualifying criteria may receive accommodations and modifications that would not otherwise be available. Major life activities may include one or more of the following functions:
- Manual tasks
- Interaction with others
If an individual has one of these conditions, but it does not significantly limit a major life activity, then Section 504 protections would not apply.
How Section 504 Eligibility is Determined
There are no restrictions on who can refer a child to be evaluated for Section 504 eligibility. However, the school district must have reason to believe that the child has a need for services based on a qualifying disability. For this reason, the school district does not have to evaluate a child for Section 504 based solely on parental demand if they do not believe the child has a qualifying mental or physical impairment. However, if a school district refuses a parental request, the parent must be provided with notice of their rights under Section 504.
Evaluation of eligibility for Section 504 is done by a decision committee comprised of trained professionals who are familiar with the child. Parents are usually encouraged to share relevant information such as medical history, outside testing, and doctor’s reports which might facilitate the decision making process of the committee. Parents may be directly included in this process at the committee’s discretion as there is no federal provision mandating that parents be a part of the eligibility determination process.
What Happens Once Eligibility Is Determined?
Once a student’s qualification for Section 504 protections are determined, the school is required to make an individualized assessment of the child’s needed services and accommodations. The provisions granted are based on the specific nature of the child’s disability and how it impairs their education.
Examples of accommodations include:
- Extended time on tests
- Oral rather than written exams
- Note taking assistance
- Adjusted seating
- Computer aided instruction
- Modified class schedules
- Taped Lectures
- Modified recess or P.E.
- Behavior Intervention Plans
- Visual aids
- Texts with enlarged or highlighted print
Ultimately, the needs of students with disabilities should be accommodated to the same extent as those without disabilities. The provided accommodations should level the playing field to enable disabled students to compete on equal educational footing with non-disabled students.