|Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Eligibility Requirements
Section 504 is part of a federal program to prevent discrimination. As such, students are protected from actions within the educational setting that may hinder their academic progress. Section 504 does not guarantee that a student will have the same outcomes as their non-impaired classmates, but it does guarantee their equal opportunity to access educational and other school activities.
Section 504 eligibility is determined after referral to the Section 504 Committee. A referral can be made by parents, guardians, teachers, professionals, or other relevant school system employees. This committee develops a Personal Student Plan for the student when warranted.
The important factors that must be satisfied regarding 504 eligibility are two key questions. The two questions are:
(1) Is there a disability (a physical or mental impairment that has been clinically diagnosed by a medical doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist)?
And if there is a disability, then:
(2) Does the disability cause a substantial, adverse impact on a major life activity (most often being that of learning)?
These two questions must be answered "YES" in order for a student to fall under Section 504 protection.
Section 504 is not an aspect of special education. It is a statute that prohibits discrimination rather than requiring affirmative action to overcome a student's disability. By definition, the student must have, be regarded as, or have a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities, such as learning.
What is meant by "substantially limits"? Well, we know that the ability to learn is a major life activity, but by definition a person who is succeeding in regular education does not have a disability which substantially limits the ability to learn. A student who is already succeeding (a grade average above "C" in traditional classes) would not need any specialized services or accommodations. Likewise, a student who has the ability but not the motivation to learn, would not fall under Section 504.
When a student is determined to have an impairment that adversely affects educational performance; that student is entitled to aids, benefits and services, not to produce an identical result, but to afford the student an equal opportunity to obtain the same results as un-impaired students.
What are some reasonable accommodations?
Physical Adaptions: study carrels, partitions, stand-up desk, reading corners, seating near teachers, magnification devices, student provided voice recorder or computer for note taking
Communication: daily/weekly journal, parent/student/school contracts, scheduled parent/teacher meetings
Class work and Test taking: open book, oral or take home exams, more objective items/fewer essay responses, extended time, teacher reads aloud questions
Medication: monitoring, dispense discreetly and store safely
Others: supplement verbal with visual instructions, adjust class schedules, modify test delivery, tailor homework assignments, change student seating, change instructional pace, implement behavioral/academic contracts.