Section 504


Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination from any program that receives federal financial assistance based upon disability.


Section 504 was passed into law as part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, one of the first U.S. federal civil rights laws to protect people with disabilities. It set the groundwork for all future legislation protecting people with disabilities, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

What section 504 says is “no otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States shall solely based on his handicap, be excluded from the participation, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Section 504 covers "any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." If an organization receives federal support of any kind, even if the organization is not a federal or state organization, the organization must comply with Section 504.

Section 504 protects qualified individuals with disabilities. Under this law, individuals with disabilities are defined as persons with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. People who have a history of, or who are regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities are also covered. Major life activities include caring for oneself, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, and learning.

Some examples of impairments that may substantially limit major life activities, even with the help of medication or aids/devices, are: AIDS, alcoholism, blindness or a visual impairment, cancer, deafness or hearing impairment, diabetes, drug addiction, heart disease, and mental illness.

Programs that are required to follow Section 504 must make reasonable modifications in their policies, practices and procedures to avoid discrimination based on disability unless they can demonstrate that a modification would fundamentally alter the nature of their service, program or activity.

View the US Department of Health and Human Services Section 504 factsheet.