IDEA and Section 504

You may have heard of two different federal laws pertaining to the services schools provide for students with special needs—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 (the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). Here are some details about each of them to help you determine whether or not your child might be eligible for services under one of them.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA is an education act that provides federal funding for special education. The purpose is to provide financial aid to states in their efforts to ensure a free appropriate education for students with disabilities.

A student is eligible to receive special education and/or related services if the multidisciplinary team determines that the student has a disability under one of 13 qualifying conditions and requires special education services. IDEA requires the district to provide an individual education program (IEP). The IEP provides an "Appropriate Education," which means a program designed to provide "Educational Benefit." The 13 classification categories are:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Deaf-Blind (DB)
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH)
  • Developmental Cognitive Disability:  Mild to Moderate (DCD-MM) or Moderate-Severe (DCD-MS)
  • Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE)
  • Emotional or Behavioral Disorders (EBD)
  • Other Health Disabilities (OHD)
  • Physically Impaired (PI)
  • Severely Multiply Impaired (SMI)
  • Specific Learning Disability (SLD)
  • Speech or Language Impairments (SPL)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Visually Impaired (VI)

Section 504 (The Rehabilitation Act of 1973)

Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibits discrimination by agencies that receive federal funding. Schools comply with this law by ensuring that they are not discriminating against any disabled students and, if they are, by creating and enacting a written accommodation plan (often called a "504") to help the student gain equal access to education.

Students are eligible for protection under Section 504 if they have or are regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits their access to a major life activity, such as: 

    • walking
    • seeing
    • hearing
    • speaking
    • breathing
    • learning
    • working

Parents or teachers who feel that a disabled student may qualify for protection under Section 504 should make a referral for consideration to the school's 504 Coordinator. This person will then gather information and pass it along for review to a team of people in the building who will make a judgment as to the student's eligibility for services under Section 504. 


504 Eligibility Guidelines and Frequently Asked Questions (pdf, 342 KB)

A handout which addresses some frequently asked questions surrounding Section 504, including eligibility guidelines and the referral process.