Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of a disability. Section 504 specifically states that no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his/her 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. Section 504 requires that the needs of students with disabilities be met a adequately as the needs of their non-disabled peers.
As defined in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended and its implementing regulations (to be referred to as Section 504), a student with a disability is one who: 1)has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity; 2) has a record of such impairment; or 3) is regarded as having such an impairment.
For a person to be covered under Section 504, the individual must be otherwise qualified, meaning that a person with a disability must be qualified to do something before the presence of a disability can be a factor in discrimination. Therefore, if a person wants to participate in some activity, but the individual is not otherwise qualified for that activity, not allowing the person to participate would not be considered discrimination.
Although Section 504 and the IDEA are similar in many respects, there are also a number of differences. Some students with qualified disabilities may be protected by Section 504 but not be eligible for services under the IDEA. For eligibility purposes, the IDEA defines specific disabilities and criteria. Eligibility entitles the student to special education (specialized instruction) and related services as described in the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP). On the other hand, Section 504 protects all students with qualified disabilities. A Section 504 Plan is developed for students determined eligible under this statute. Section 504 is a much broader civil rights act when compared with the IDEA, which is an entitlement act.
Inquiries concerning 504 may be directed to the Essex County Department of Special Education at 804-443-3959.