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What is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

Last updated on: November 16, 2020

Several federal civil rights laws affect individuals with disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is particularly important for children with disabilities. This section is designed to protect the rights of students with disabilities in those programs that receive financial assistance from the federal government. The pertinent portion of Section 504 reads:

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his 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…”

Those programs that receive assistance include:

  • Public school districts
  • Institutions of higher learning
  • Other states and local education agencies

These programs are required to provide “free appropriate public education” or FAPE to every qualified child who has a disability within the program’s jurisdiction. This is true regardless of the severity or nature of the child’s disability. FAPE includes both special and general education and related services and aids to encourage and foster a child’s individual learning.

Qualifying for Services under Section 504

Students who qualify under Section 504 have a disability that inhibits a major life function. That means that his or her disability is a mental or physical impairment that affects a body system. The impairment may limit the following life activities:

  • Hearing
  • Seeing
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Working
  • Caring for oneself
  • Performing manual tasks
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Standing
  • Lifting
  • Bending
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking
  • Reading
  • Communicating

The definition of “disability” for purposes of Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act is deliberately broad, so the list above is by no means exhaustive.

Violations of Section 504

Schools are required, as much as possible, to eliminate barriers to a child’s learning and to encourage full participation in school activities. Often, certain accommodations can be provided to the child to accomplish this goal. However, where accommodations or adjustments are not made, a violation of Section 504 may have occurred.

Schools must ensure compliance, set up internal grievance procedures, and evaluate children for potential participation in Section 504 programming. Your individual school should have a complaint program that you can use to address concerns regarding compliance with Section 504. Understanding the grievance procedures is an important first step in dealing with potential violations of Section 504.

Matus Law can help you initiate the grievance procedures with your school district or help you file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. Contact us today to learn more about your rights relating to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Christine Matus

Christine Matus
Christine Matus

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