Educational Access for Disabled Students under Section 504 of the the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal statute, which guarantees the rights of disabled people to equal opportunity in all programs and activities, which receive federal financial assistance. It prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals solely on the basis of handicap.
Public school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, as recipients of federal funds, are required to remove any communications, architectural, policy and practice or any other barriers that prevent disabled people from participating in, benefiting from or being employed by such programs.
To whom does Section 504 apply?
Section 504 regulations apply to state education agencies, elementary and secondary school systems, colleges and universities, libraries, vocational schools and state vocational rehabilitation agencies.
What are the basic requirements of Section 504?
Every public school system must:
- Provide a “free appropriate public education” to each qualified person in the district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person’s disability and in the most integrated setting appropriate;
- Ensure that the concept of least restrictive environment is followed which means that handicapped persons must be educated with persons who are not handicapped to the maximum extent appropriate;
- Operate its programs or activities in such a way that “when viewed in its entirety is readily accessible to handicapped persons.” This program is called “program accessibility” since each unique program must be accessible. This means that every building or facility does not have to be accessible, so long as the program as a whole is accessible.
Are there public notification and complaint processes?
School systems are required to adopt grievance procedures for students and staff that provide for the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of handicap. Grievance procedures should be disseminated in such a way so that students, staff and members of the public are familiar with their rights under Section 504.
School systems are required to notify the public of their complaint process and the official responsible for its implementation. They must also identify for the public the existence and location of services, activities and facilities accessible and usable by handicapped persons.
Does Section 504 deal with employment?
Section 504 prohibits discrimination in all employment related decisions including, but not limited to, recruitment, hiring, promotion, tenure, leave, benefits and training. Employers may not improperly inquire about a person’s disability prior to an offer of employment and must make “reasonable accommodations” for employment for qualified handicapped persons.
Is there a relationship between Section 504 and Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA)?
Section 504 is companion legislation to IDEA and they should be viewed together since they collectively set forth the body or rights, procedures and regulations that affect education of disabled children.
Section 504 is civil rights legislation, which seeks to eliminate discriminatory obstacles preventing otherwise qualified persons from participating in educational programs. IDEA supplies federal financial incentives for programs and services for handicapped persons provided that affirmative steps are taken beyond the equal or fair treatment requirements of Section 504.
How is accessibility achieved?
By 1978, every school system should have completed an evaluation of its policies and practices affected by Section 504 and should have adopted and implemented plans to modify and eliminate barriers to program accessibility. Structural changes are required only when there is no other feasible way to make programs or activities accessible through such means as relocation of classrooms, redesign of equipment, or the assignment of aides.
Is technical assistance available?
Technical assistance is not available from the State Education Department. The Department has no authority to resolve any disputes or complaints pertaining to these statutes. The U.S. Office for Civil Rights, which enforces these laws, is the only agency that may provide technical assistance to sub-recipients and investigate complaints. In those instances where complaints or inquiries regarding civil rights cannot be resolved by the locally appointed Section 504 or Title IX compliance officer, they should be promptly forwarded to the regional U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights office. Inquires concerning alleged violations of Title VI, Title IX and Section 504 should be directed to:
The OCR office for New York is located at:
U.S. Department of Education
Office for Civil Rights
New York Enforcement Office
32 Old Slip, 26th Floor
New York, NY 10005-2500
FAX: 646-428-3890; TDD: 212-637-0478