Section 504: Disability Accommodations
Ensuring disabled students equal access to educational opportunities
What is Section 504?
Section 504 is a federal law designed to protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education. Specifically, Section 504 indicates that "no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely because of their disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal funds." In short, Section 504 ensures that an eligible student with a disability has equal access to educational opportunities and related school programs and activities, just as his or her non-disabled peers.
Who is Covered?
A student may be considered disabled under Section 504 if the student has a mental or physical impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. Major life activities include functions such as: caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working (this list is not exhaustive).
Referral and Eligibility
A student's teacher, parent/guardian, private practitioner, agency representative, or other appropriate individual, may make a referral to the school's Section 504 Committee if they suspect that the student may have a disability. Referrals can be verbal, written or electronic, and are processed by the school's Section 504 Chairperson, which most often is the School Counselor. Once a referral is received, a screening/record review meeting is scheduled within 15 business days. During the screening/record review meeting, the committee will determine if a disability is officially suspected, and if so, proceed to a discussion of eligibility.
During the discussion of eligibility, the Section 504 Committee considers the following: (a) if a mental or physical impairment exists, (b) if the impairment substantially limits any of the student's major life functions, (c) how the impairment affects the student's access across the educational program, and (d) if the student requires an accommodation plan.
The Section 504 Plan
If a student is found eligible under Section 504, the Section 504 Committee may develop an accommodation plan if accommodations or services are required to access their education, and/or related school programs and activities. Not every student eligible under Section 504 will require a Section 504 plan.
Section 504 plans shall be reviewed at least annually and eligibility is determined at least every three years by the Section 504 Committee.