Section 504, A New Standard for Equality in Education

Section 504, A New Standard for Equality in Education

504 compliance refers to section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which mandates that educational institutions within the U.S. provide accommodations to children with disabilities so that all students can have equal access to academic opportunities. Section 504 applies to all K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions that receive federal funding, as the law mandates that “reasonable accommodations” are made to allow for students with disabilities to function and thrive in educational settings. Conversely, Section 504 does not apply to private K-12 schools or post-secondary institutions, though said institutions are subject to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of the ADA for short. In conjunction with the ADA, Section 504 serves as one of the primary means by which students with disabilities can effectively pursue their educational interests.

What are the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions provide students with disabilities with “reasonable accommodations” in regards to the tasks and objectives that said students will be asked to perform. Per the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a reasonable accommodation is defined as “a change, adaptation, or modification to a policy, program, service, or workplace which will allow a qualified person with a disability to participate fully in a program, take advantage of a service, or perform a job. Reasonable accommodations may include, for example, those which may be necessary in order for the person with a disability to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces”.

Moreover, Section 504 also prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities in regards to their ability to access education. More specifically, individuals with disabilities are “protected from discriminatory behavior by academic institutions, employers, and government agencies. Qualified individuals include those that have a physical or mental impairment that impedes or inhibits a major life function”, per the Department of U.S. Health and Human Services. To this end, educational institutions through the U.S. can achieve 504 compliance by developing a checklist of reasonable accommodations and other actions that serve to help students with disabilities access their course work and other educational-related activities and materials with the same ease as other students.

What must an educational institution include on its checklist to achieve 504 compliance?

As there is so much variation in regards to educational institutions with the U.S., ranging from the academic or grade level of a particular institution, as well as the size of the institution, there is no single checklist that all schools or postsecondary institutions can follow to achieve 504 compliance. However, due to the role that the internet has come to play in all aspects of modern-day society, almost all academic institutions will need to govern aspects of their checklist to ensure that their online and digital materials are accessible to students with disabilities. As such, common examples of reasonable accommodations that an educational institution could list on their checklist include:

  • Closed captioning functionality for lectures and video content.
  • Lecture and podcast transcriptions.
  • Interpreters for students who may be vision or hearing-impaired.
  • Content and format descriptive alternative text.
  • Adjustable text size.
  • Accessible PDFs.
  • Free assistive technology, such as screen readers for computer usage.
  • Programs that can be used without mouse control i.e. touch screens. Keyboards, etc.

What are the requirements of educational institutions as it relates to student protections?

As another primary aspect of Section 504 is reducing the level of discrimination that students with disabilities may face, the law also mandates that educational institutions take the following steps as it relates to protecting students:

  • Develop and implement procedures for the purposes of evaluating and placing students with disabilities in appropriate classroom settings, as well as ensuring that students are neither misclassified nor misplaced.
  • Engage in the periodic reevaluation of students who have been provided with services and prior to a significant change in placement.
  • Provide disabled students with either regular or special education-related aids for the purposes of ensuring that the educational needs of disabled students are addressed as adequately as students who do not have a disability.
  • Provide disabled students with the same opportunity to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities as is afforded to students without disabilities.
  • Educate disabled students with non-disabled students, to the maximum extent that said action is appropriate in relation to the needs of disabled students.
  • Have procedures designed to inform parents of school district actions/decisions and to provide parents with a process to challenge those actions/decisions, including notice, an opportunity for parents to review their child’s records, an impartial due process hearing, and a review procedure.
  • When a school district knows or reasonably should know of possible disability-based harassment, it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate what occurred. If harassment did occur, the school district must take prompt and effective steps to end the harassment and prevent the harassment from recurring.

Despite that some children are either born with or develop disabilities throughout the course of their lives, they are still entitled to the same educational experiences and protections as is given to students with disabilities. Through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, disabled students, as well as their parents when applicable, have an avenue for recourse should they feel as if the rights of them of their parents are being infringed upon in regards to educational opportunities. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 stand as the primary means by which the discrimination against disabled can be prevented.