Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Pub. L. 93 112, as amended by the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1974, Pub. L. 93 516, 29 U.S.C. 794, is civil rights legislation designed to eliminate discrimination on the basis of handicap in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. Section 504 provides that "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 benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity as conducted by any Executive Agency..." It is Congress's directive to all entities, including both public and private schools, which receive federal funding to banish discrimination on the basis of disability from all aspects of their operations. Schools must afford students with disabilities with equal opportunities "to obtain the same result, to gain the same benefit, or to reach the same level of achievement" as students without disabilities.
Eligibility for a student to receive services and protection against discrimination on the basis of disability under Section 504 is determined through an evaluation to have a ‘physical or mental impairment” that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” 29 USC 705(20)(B).
- Section 504 regulations require school districts to provide a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district's jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability.
- Under Section 504, FAPE consists of the provision of regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the student's individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of non-disabled students are met.
- Section 504 promotes inclusion with a specific Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) component and accommodations for participation in extracurricular activities and nonacademic services, such as field trips and transportation.
All children with disabilities who are protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are also covered under Section 504; the converse is not the case.