The Rehabilitation Act of 1973—Section 504 Eligibility
The Rehabilitation Act was introduced to prevent intentional or unintentional discrimination and to eliminate barriers that excluded individuals with disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that prohibits agencies and programs that receive federal funds from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.
The Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education oversees the implementation of Section 504 by agencies and programs that receive federal funds. Public schools receive federal funds and, therefore, are subject to the provisions of Section 504. The law states, “No otherwise qualified individual with handicaps in the United States…shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefit of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance…(29 U.S.C. §794).”
Students who do not qualify for special education under the IDEA but are determined disabled under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are eligible for accommodations that may include AT devices and/or services. Note that Section 504 uses the term “handicapped” while the IDEA uses the term “disability.” The definition of disability under Section 504 is different from the definition of disability under IDEA. Under Section 504, an “individual with handicaps” is defined as a person who “(i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.” Major life activities include walking, sleeping, seeing, hearing, learning, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, speaking, breathing, and working (29 U.S.C. §706[B]). This means that the definition of individuals with a disability under Section 504 is broader than the definition of children with disabilities under the IDEA.
Section 504 applies to preschool and elementary and secondary schools that receive or benefit from federal financial assistance. These programs are required to provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education. Section 504 defines appropriate as the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet the individual educational needs of handicapped persons as adequately as the needs of nonhandicapped persons. Programs subject to Section 504 must ensure that students with disabilities are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in all academic and extracurricular school programs. Benefits and services provided to students with disabilities must be equal to, and as effective as, the benefits and services afforded to other students (34 CFR §104.4[b][ii-iii])
Schools may have to make special accommodations for students with a disability, including the provision of AT devices and/or services, to allow students with disabilities to have access to the full range of programs and activities available to nondisabled students. These are documented under “accommodations” in the 504 plan designed for each student according to individual need. For further information about Section 504 and public schools’ responsibilities under the provisions of Section 504, please contact the Northeast Regional Office of Civil Rights at 617-289-0111 or the U.S. Department of Education.
This case was not handled by our firm. However, if you have any questions regarding this case, or any education matter, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.
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