Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504, and Americans with Disabilities Act

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law specifically aimed at providing financial assistance to public education systems to assist with the costs of providing accommodations for children ages 3-21 who have disabilities. Under IDEA your disabled child is entitled to an individualized education plan (IEP) which the school is legally required to honor.

Who qualifies for an IEP plan?

In order to qualify for an IEP plan, a student must

  • Be between the ages of 3 and 21 
  • Have an identified disability that impedes learning to the point that the student needs specialized instruction in order to close the gap between the student's own academic achievement and that of his/her age peers. This is determined at an IEP meeting and is based on the results of standardized assessments as well as other formal and informal data collection.  Qualifying for an IEP requires unanimous agreement from a multidisciplinary team including: a special education teacher, psychologist, parent, related service provider, and general education teacher.  Other members might include individuals with knowledge or expertise regarding the child and a representative of the school district (usually an administrator) qualified to provide or oversee special instruction designed for children with disabilities. There must be agreement that the student's disability falls under one of the 13 federally mandated categories and that it interferes with the student's education and performance.

Americans with Disabilities Act 

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that expanded the protections of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to include state and local agencies and institutions, and nonsectarian private schools.  The ADA is relevant to employment opportunities, education, and accessibility (such as handicap parking, bathrooms, and ramps).  Provision of reasonable accommodations in places of education and employment, as well as other public facilities is a key aspect of the ADA  Details on ADA regulations and how to file a complaint can be found at 

Section 504

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs run by federal agencies; programs that receive federal financial assistance; in federal employment; and in the employment practices of federal contractors.  Section 504 is a key part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 applies to all persons with disabilities regardless of age.  It is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met.  

From the US Department of Education:

Section 504 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  Section 504 provides: "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States...shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, 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..."

Who qualifies for a Section 504 plan?

Section 504’s definition of disability is broader than the IDEA’s definition. To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to:

  • have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or
  • have a record of such an impairment; or
  • be regarded as having such an impairment.

About Parenting has sample 504 plan templates.  Look at all the information available, and learn the terminology.  You will be the driving advocate for enacting a 504 plan for your child

Helpful Definitions

  • Accommodation: a change in how or where your child is taught, or the materials used for teaching.  FAPE, a parenting site, has a helpful guidesheet on some general accommodations that might be made.  
  • Disability: Section 504 defines a disability as physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a person's ability to participate in a major life activity, such as learning.  
  • Equal access: equal opportunity of a qualified person with a disability to participate in or benefit from educational aid, benefits, or services 
  • Free appropriate public education (FAPE): a term used in the elementary and secondary school context; for purposes of Section 504, refers to the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services that are designed to meet individual educational needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of students without disabilities are met and is based upon adherence to procedures that satisfy the Section 504 requirements pertaining to educational setting, evaluation and placement, and procedural safeguards 
  • Placement: a term used in the elementary and secondary school context; refers to regular and/or special educational program in which a student receives educational and/or related services 
  • Reasonable accommodation: a term used in the employment context to refer to modifications or adjustments employers make to a job application process, the work environment, the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, or that enable a covered entity's employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment; this term is sometimes used incorrectly to refer to related aids and services in the elementary and secondary school context or to refer to academic adjustments, reasonable modifications, and auxiliary aids and services in the postsecondary school context. 
  • Reasonable modification: under a regulatory provision implementing Title II of the ADA, public entities are required to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures when the modifications are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the public entity can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity. 

Page last updated February 16, 2018