Understanding the 504 Plan for Students with Disabilities

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A 504 plan is an attempt to remove barriers and allow students with disabilities to participate freely in both public elementary and secondary education.

The 504 plan refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which specifies that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or post-secondary schooling.​

How Is a 504 Plan Different From an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)?

A 504 Plan is intended for children with a wide range of disabilities who are, nevertheless, able to participate and succeed in a general education classroom. An IEP, on the other hand, is intended for children with a specific set of diagnoses who will require special education services. A 504 Plan may include just one or two accommodations (a peanut-free environment, for example), while an IEP is a legal document which includes objectives, goals, accommodations, and a description of an agreed-upon educational setting.

Which Children Benefit From a 504 Plan?

Children who benefit from a 504 plan are children who are able to learn at a typical level with appropriate accommodations. Thus, a child with intellectual disabilities will almost certainly need an IEP while a child with asthma might require a 504.

A 504 plan spells out the modifications and accommodations that will be needed for these students to have an opportunity to perform at the same level as their peers.

These may include such things as wheelchair ramps, blood sugar monitoring, an extra set of textbooks, home instruction, or a tape recorder or keyboard for taking notes.

Leveling The Playing Field

Like the Americans With Disabilities Act, the 504 plan seeks to level the playing field so that those students can safely pursue the same opportunities as everyone else.

A 504 plan aims to make sure that students with disabilities get the accommodations they need to participate in school just as they would if they didn't have a disability.​

Section 504 states, "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 the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Section 504 mandates that public schools districts offer a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to eligible students with disabilities in their constituencies, no matter how severe the disability is or what its nature is.

What Does a 504 Plan Look Like?

There is no requirement that a 504 plan be written, but the vast majority of schools do write up the plans. As a parent, it's a very good idea to be sure your school provides a written, signed 504. The actual format of the 504 will depend upon your school, or you can download or create your own form.

On the 504, you and the school will list specific accommodations or requirements that will make it possible for your child to succeed in a general education program.

Unlike an IEP, a 504 will not include academic goals, benchmarks, or measurements. Accommodations may include such items as:

  • Placing a child at the front of the classroom
  • Requiring teachers and aides to receive training in your child's particular disability (e.g., CPR training, a video about ADHD, etc.)
  • Providing a child with extra time or a quiet space for test taking or homework
  • Providing a child with technology to support particular needs (voice to text technology, for example)
  • Providing a child with an allergen-free environment