About the Law : Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 is a brief law; however, it applies to all postsecondary institutions that receive federal financial assistance (basically almost all institutions do in the form of financial aid to students). The law addresses issues of recruitment, admissions, and treatment of students. Detailed regulations regarding implementation can be found in 34 C.F.R. Part 104. The law states:
No otherwise qualified individual with disabilities in the United States shall, solely by reason of his or her 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.
Section 504 applies to all persons with disabilities and includes “any person with 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.”
Section 504 protects the civil rights of individuals who meet the entrance requirements of the institution and have a disability including, but not limited to, the following:
- Blindness or visual impairment
- Cerebral palsy
- Chronic illnesses such as aids, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, or psychiatric disorders
- Deafness or hearing impairment
- Drug or alcohol addiction (Section 504 covers former users and those in recovery programs and currently not using drugs or alcohol
- Epilepsy or seizure disorders
- Mental retardation
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Specific learning disability
- Speech disorder
- Spinal cord injury or traumatic brain injury
There are three major implications of Section 504:
- All programs and services must be physically accessible to all students including laboratories and field experiences, library services, athletic programs, and residence life. If a program in not physically accessible, it may require relocating that activity, offering services in alternate locations, or modifying buildings.
- Auxiliary aids such as readers, note takers, and/or special equipment may need to be provided in order to ensure that students with disabilities can participate.
- Accommodations may need to be provided to modify the way a course is being taught, to find an acceptable substitute for certain course requirements, or provide accommodations on examinations.
Under Section 504, colleges and universities should:
- Develop policies and procedures to determine eligibility for services such as has been provided by the national organization for service providers, the Association of Higher Education for Students with Disabilities (AHEAD).
- Extend the time to complete a degree for students with disabilities;
- Develop policies regarding course substitutions for students with disabilities;
- Provide modifications, substitutions, or waivers of courses, major field of study, or degree requirements on a case-by-case basis. Such accommodations need not be made if the institution can demonstrate that the changes requested would substantially alter essential elements of the course or program.
Under Section 504, an institution may not:
- Limit the number of students with disabilities admitted
- Inquire as to whether or not an applicant has a disability
- Use admissions test or criteria that were administered without accommodations or inadequately assessed the applicants' qualifications even if accommodations were provided.
- Counsel students with disabilities to a more restrictive career
- Measure student mastery using modes that adversely discriminate against students with disabilities
- Create policies that may adversely affect the performance of students with disabilities
The following links provide more information on Section 504:
LD Online page for information on Section 504:
U.S. Government page on Section 504:
Last revised on 11/10/2004
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