Section 504 FAQ

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about Section 504 accommodations.

This FAQ is based on background information taken from the Illinois State Board of Education's website. You can find the original material here.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education.

Section 504 establishes a student's right to full access to and participation in education and all school-related activities. It requires schools to provide appropriate services to meet the individual needs of qualified students.

A student is considered "qualified" under Section 504 if the student A student is between the ages of 3 and 22 years of age and has a disability, which is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

Major life activities include caring for oneself, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks and learning.

The following are some examples of impairments that may substantially limit major life activities, even with the help of medication, aids or devices: allergies, asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), blindness or visual impairment, deafness or hearing impairment, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease and mental illness.

No. An example is a student who is temporarily disabled by an injury such as a broken leg. Although the "disability" is not permanent, a school district is still required under Section 504 to provide "accommodation" that will allow the student to have access to the school and its programs while the student remains under the temporary disability of the broken leg.

For the most part, no. With the passage of the ADA Amendments Act in 2008, Congress expanded the scope of "major life activities" and clarified that a disability determination under the ADA and Section 504 should not demand extensive analysis, which is why the ameliorating effects of mitigating measures (other than ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses) are no longer considered when making a determination.

If a student is covered by Section 504, a school district must provide the student with a "504 Plan" that describes what the district will do support the student's disability and ensure that the student's disability will not be a barrier to the student access to school programs, which can include things such as school assemblies, extracurricular activities, etc. It is important to note that a 504 Plan is a more general document than an IEP and will only contain a basic description of what kinds of support the district will provide to address the disability.

In addition to providing required services and program modifications, school districts are also required to have written procedures regarding their administration of services under Section 504. These procedural safeguards include notice of the law and its applicability, an opportunity for students and their parents or guardians to examine relevant records, an impartial hearing with the student's parents or guardians and representation by counsel, and a review procedure. 

Local school districts are responsible for implementing the provisions of Section 504. However, ultimate responsibility for enforcing the law rests with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education.

If you believe that a school or school district has violated this law and your efforts to resolve your complaint at the local level have not been successful, you may file a formal complaint with OCR by contacting the regional office.

You may also call the OCR Hotline at 1-800-421-3481 or file a complaint using the OCR Online Complaint Form. Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits. The Section 504 regulations do not contain a requirement that a person file a complaint with OCR and exhaust his or her administrative remedies before filing a private lawsuit.​​