With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is receiving more and more attention. A recent joint memorandum from the U.S. Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights regarding the eligibility of students with attention deficit disorders reiterated the requirements of Section 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Many questions have arisen regarding the relationship between the ADA, Section 504, and the IDEA. Special education administrators have requested the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to provide technical assistance to school districts to assure compliance with these statutes.

To address these issues, OSPI has developed this document, in cooperation with Region 10 of the Office for Civil Rights, to assist school districts in serving all of their students with disabilities in a way that assures a quality education which is in compliance with state and federal laws. This document includes a detailed explanation of Section 504, and its procedural requirements, sample procedural documents, highlights of the major differences between Section 504, the ADA, and the IDEA, a flow chart for implementation, sample accommodation plans, and suggestions for working with the Office for Civil Rights.

THE REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973, P.L. 93-112

This law is critical, because it addresses discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law has different sections which refer to different areas of discrimination, as follows:

  • Section 501: Employment of Handicapped Individuals
  • Section 502: Architectural and Transportation Board Compliance
  • Section 503: Employment under Federal Contracts
  • Section 504: Non-discrimination under Federal Grants

To this day, Section 504 provides individuals with disabilities with basic civil rights protection against discrimination in federal programs. The law states that

no otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States shall, solely by reason of his (or her) handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

To be eligible for the protection under Section 504, an individual must meet the definition of a handicapped person. This definition is:

Any person who (i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.

Major life activities include, but are not limited to, self-care, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and walking. Section 504 covers only those persons with a disability who would otherwise be qualified to participate and benefit from the programs or other activities receiving federal financial assistance. All ESE students fall under Section 504 and necessary accommodations are specified in the IEP.

Section 504 assures equal opportunities for children and youth with disabilities in schools receiving federal funds-pre-schools, elementary and secondary schools, and postsecondary institutions. Agencies that persist in acts of discrimination face the loss of federal funds. Along with school districts, this includes colleges and universities, vocational education and adult education programs, state and local governments, places of employment, hospitals and clinics, and public and private groups of all kinds which receive federal financial assistance.

Public Law 93-112 has been amended several times. In 1983, P.L. 98-221, the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1983, authorized several demonstration projects regarding the transition of youth with disabilities from school to work. In 1986, P.L. 99-506, the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986, provided for programs in supported employment services for individuals with disabilities.