• What is Section 504?

    Part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 is a civil rights law to protect disabled individuals from discrimination.

    What is an "impairment" as used in Section 504? 

    An impairment as used under Section 504 may include any disability, long-term illness, or various disorder that “substantially” reduces or lessens a student’s ability to access learning in the educational setting because of a learning, behavior or health related condition. There is no list of eligible or ineligible disabilities. However, examples include: AD/HD, dyslexia, cancer, diabetes, severe allergies, chronic asthma, Tourette’s Syndrome, digestive disorders, cardiovascular disorders, depression, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, HIV/AIDS, behavior disorders, and temporary disorders such as broken limbs.

    What do I do if I suspect my child has a disability? 

    First and foremost, discuss your concerns with your child’s classroom teacher. He or she may be able to reassure you that your child is making appropriate progress. If you continue to be concerned about your child’s progress, contact your child’s assistant principal in writing, expressing your concerns.

    Who determines whether a students is "substantially limited"?  

    According to the federal regulations: “...placement decisions are to be made by a group of persons who are knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, placement options, least restrictive environment requirements, and comparable facilities” [34 C.F.R. §104.35(c)(3)]. Unlike Special Education, the federal regulations for Section 504 do not require or even mention that parents are to be a part of the decision-making committee. 

    What is a major life activity?  

    A major life activity is an activity that is of central importance to the daily life activity of the average person in the general population. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working. It also includes the operation of a major bodily function.

    What is a substantial limitation?  

    Although not defined in the regulations, OCR has interpreted it to mean “unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform; or restricted as to the condition, manner, or duration under which an individual can perform a major life activity as compared to the condition, manner, or duration under which the average person in the general population can perform that same major life activity.”

    What is disabled under Section 504?  

    A qualified individual with a disability under Section 504 is an individual with an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

    Are there impairments that automatically qualify someone for Section 504?  

    No, each decision on eligibility is made on an individual basis.

    How is Section 504 different than special education?  

    Section 504 is similar to special education in some ways, yet very different in other ways. Section 504 eligibility is broader than special education, in that special education limits eligibility to 13 categories of “disabilities” and requires an educational need for services. Section 504 law does not specify a list of impairments that may qualify a student and requires a substantial limitation to a major life activity, which may or may not be learning. In addition, most services (typically accommodations) that students receive in Section 504 are provided within the classroom by the classroom teacher. Section 504 procedures, paperwork and parental rights are also very different than in special education. However, contrary to popular misconception, Section 504 is not “special education light” or a consolation to students who are not eligible for special education.