504 Plans for Students with Disabilities

Published October 7, 2021

As the school year begins, it is important to know your rights as a student. If you or your child has a “physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities,” as outlined in Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, you are legally entitled to have a customized educational plan put into place to ensure there are no barriers to the “free appropriate public education” you are entitled to. This federal anti-discrimination law applies to any student in attendance at a public school or a private/charter school that receives federal funding, including colleges and universities.

Congress provided examples of major life activities as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, communicating, breathing, standing, lifting, speaking, reading, learning, concentrating, thinking, working, and bending. If you have difficulty doing any of these tasks and attend an educational facility that receives federal funding, having a 504 plan put in place to protect your rights as a student will ensure an optimal learning experience.

No need for an IEP to be federally protected

504 plans are of particular importance to students who do not qualify for special education services or have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) but require accommodations to succeed. Students that are receiving good grades in school may still have protections under a 504 plan if their impairment is limiting their education.

Some examples of students protected under 504 plans that may not have IEPs include those who are hard of hearing, have mild dyslexia or ADD/ADHD, have a medical condition such as allergies, asthma, epilepsy, cancer or diabetes, or people with a mental illness. 504 plans can also be put into place for students returning to school after an injury or illness. Ideally, 504 plans will provide services, accommodations, and aids for students to succeed in a regular classroom setting, but if not possible, alternative settings in the school or private or residential programs are options.

Steps to get a 504 plan

Parents, legal guardians, teachers, physicians, or therapists may suggest the implementation of a 504 plan if they notice a physical or mental impairment impeding a student’s learning. Once the recommendation for a 504 plan is made, the child’s academic and medical records are reviewed, a planning team consisting of school personnel and the child’s parent(s)/guardian(s) meet, and the team determines if the child is eligible. Should a disagreement arise regarding the details of the 504 plan, appeals can be written to the school district and the U.S. Office for Civil Rights.

Examples of 504 Accommodations

  • Physical modifications: wheelchair ramps, handrails, motorized doors.
  • Policy modifications: allowing students with diabetes to have snacks in class or a child with ADHD to play with a fidget toy or stand up while learning, removing gym requirements for asthmatics, making classrooms and buses peanut-free for children with allergies, or excusing lateness/absences.
  • Learning aids/services: calculators, iPads, laptops, literacy specialists, hearing itinerant teachers, and/or FM systems.
  • Other modifications: preferential seating, extended time for test-taking and/or assignments, reduced classwork and/or homework, different test formats, having instructions repeated and/or read aloud, verbal testing, having class notes provided to the student, modified textbooks, or audio-visual materials.

Annual review of 504 plan

504 plans should be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure they are appropriate based on the student’s needs. Any 504 plan team member may request a review at any time if they have educational concerns or if the student’s needs have changed. If the student is no longer disabled, no longer requires special accommodations or services, and can be appropriately instructed in general education, the plan can be terminated.

AccessibilityPlus 2021

Accessibility.com is proud of our role in promoting accessibility and equal access while recognizing there is much work to be done. As we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month this October, we have opened registration for AccessibilityPlus, a live three-day virtual conference to promote inclusion, diversity, accessibility, and equal access. The conference is free to attend for the first 500 participants and will be the first of its kind with representation from Fortune 500 Companies that have demonstrated commitment to accessibility and organizations dedicated to removing barriers for persons with disabilities. For more information about the conference, speakers, and topics, please visit our AccessibilityPlus registration page.