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The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 represent three attempts to improve the living conditions of those with disabilities.  Two basic programs are the 504 Plan and the IEP.  See below for information regarding these two provisions.

504 PLAN

Public schools are required, in Section 504 of the ADA, to provide to students with disabilities appropriate educational services designed to meet the individual needs of such students to the same extent as the needs of students without disabilities are met. An appropriate education for a student with a disability under the Section 504 regulations could consist of education in regular classrooms, education in regular classes with supplementary services, and/or special education and related services.

Source:  US Department of Education


Section 504 covers qualified students with disabilities who attend schools receiving Federal financial assistance. To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment. Section 504 requires that school districts provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to qualified students in their jurisdictions who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

Source:  US Department of Education

A COMPARISON of ADA, IDEA, and Section 504

Type and purpose




A civil rights law to prohibit discrimination solely on the basis of disability in employment, public services, and accommodations.

An education act to provide federal financial assistance to State and local education agencies to guarantee special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities.

A civil rights law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities, public and private, that receive federal financial assistance.


Who is protected?




Any individual with a disability who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities; or (2) has a record of such impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.  Further, the person must be qualified for the program, service, or job.

Children ages 3-21 who are determined by a multidisciplinary team to be eligible within one or more of 13 specific disability categories and who need special education and related services.  Categories include autism, deafness, deaf-blindness, hearing impairments, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairments, other health impairments, serious emotional disturbance, specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairments

Any person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a record of such an impairment or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.  Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.


Provides for a free, appropriate public education (FAPE)




Not directly.  However, (1) ADA protections apply to nonsectarian private schools, but not to organization or private schools, or entities controlled by religious organization; (2) ADA provided additional protection in combination with actions brought under Section 504.  Reasonable accommodations are required for eligible students with a disability to perform essential functions of the job.  This applies to any part of the special education program that may be community-based and involve job training/placement.

Yes.  A FAPE is defined to mean special education and related services.  Special education means "specially designed instruction at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of the child with a disability..."  Related services are provided if students, require them in order to benefit from specially designed instruction.  States are required to ensure the provision of "full educational opportunity" to all children with disabilities.  IDEA requires the development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) document with specific content and a required number of participants at an IEP meeting.

Yes.  An "appropriate" education means an education comparable to that provided to students without disabilities.  This may be defined as regular or special education services.  Students can receive related services under Section 504 even if they are not provided any special education.  Section 504 does require development of a plan, although this written document is not mandated.  The Individualized Education Program (IEP) of IDEA may be used for the Section 504 written plan.  Many experts recommend that a group of persons knowledgeable about the students convene and specify the agreed-upon services.


Funding to implement services




No, but limited tax credits may be available for removing architectural or transportation barriers.  Also, many federal agencies provide grant funds to support training and to provide technical assistance to public and private institutions.

Yes.  IDEA provides federal funds under Parts B and C to assist states and local education agencies in meeting IDEA requirements to serve infants, toddlers and youth with disabilities.

No.  State and local jurisdictions have responsibility.  IDEA funds may not be used to serve children found eligible under Section 504.


Procedural safeguards




The ADA does not specify procedural safeguards related to special education; it does detail the administrative requirements complaint procedures, and consequences for noncompliance related to both services and employment.

IDEA requires written notice to parents regarding identification, evaluation, and/or placement.  Further, written notice must be made prior to any change in placement.  The Act delineates the required components of the written notices.

Section 504 requires notice to parents regarding identification, evaluation and/or placements.  Written notice is recommended.  Notice must be made only before a "significant change" in placement.  Following IDEA procedural safeguards is one way to comply with Section 504 mandates.


Evaluation and placement procedures




The ADA does not specify evaluation and placement procedures: it does specify provision of reasonable accommodations for eligible activities and settings.  Reasonable accommodations may include, but are not limited to, redesigning equipment, assigning aides, providing written communication in alternative formats, modifying tests, redesigning services to accessibility locations, altering existing facilities, and building new facilities.

A comprehensive evaluation is required.  A multidisciplinary team evaluates the child, and parental consent is required before evaluation.  IDEA requires that reevaluations be conducted at least every 3 years.  For evaluation and placement decisions, IDEA requires that more than one single procedure or information source be used; that information from all sources be documented and carefully considered; that the eligibility decision be made by a group of persons who know about the student, the evaluation data, and placement options; and that the placement decision serves the student in the least restrictive environment.  An IEP meeting is required before any change in placement.

Unlike IDEA, Section 504 requires only notice, not consent, for evaluation.  It is recommended that district obtain parental consent.  Like IDEA evaluation and placement procedures under Section 504 require that information be obtained from a variety of sources of the area of concern; that all data are documented and considered; and that decisions are made by a group of persons knowledgeable about the student, evaluation data, and placement options.  Section 504 requires that students be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate.  Section 504 does not require a meeting for any change in placement.


Due process




The ADA does not delineate specific due process procedures.  People with disabilities have the same remedies that are available under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended in 1991.  Thus, individuals who are discriminated against may file a complaint with the relevant federal agency or due in federal court.  Enforcement agencies encourage informal mediation and voluntary compliance.

IDEA delineates specific requirements for local education agencies to provide impartial hearings for parents who disagree with the identification, evaluation, or placement of a child.

Section 504 requires local education agencies to provide impartial hearings for parents who disagree with the identification, evaluation, or placement of a student.  It requires that parents have an opportunity to participate in the hearing process and to be represented by counsel.  Beyond this, due process details are left to the discretion of the local education agency.  It is recommended that districts develop policy guidelines and procedures.

Source:  Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), with the exception of two paragraphs noted. 



What is an individualized education program?

An individualized education program (IEP) is a written plan for a child with a disability that is developed and implemented according to federal and state regulations. This plan includes:

• A description of your child's strengths and needs (present levels of performance). This description should include how your child’s disability affects his/her involvement and progress in the general curriculum. For preschool children, this description should include how the disability affects your child’s participation in appropriate activities;

 • A statement of measurable annual goals and short-term instructional objectives or benchmarks related to meeting your child’s educational needs that result from his/her disability. These goals and objectives should enable your child to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum. They must also meet your child’s other educational needs;

• A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to your child, or on behalf of your child. There should also be a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for your child to

  • Advance toward reaching the annual goals;
  • Be involved and progress in the general curriculum and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities; and
  • Be educated and participate with other children with and without disabilities.

• An explanation of the extent, if any, to which your child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and other school activities;

• A statement of any individual modifications your child may need to participate in state or district-wide assessments of student achievement. If the IEP team determines that your child will not participate in a particular assessment (or part of an assessment), the IEP must include a statement of why the assessment is not appropriate for your child and how your child will be assessed (see list of special factors in this section); 

• The projected date for the beginning of the services and modifications described in the IEP and the anticipated frequency, location and duration of those services and modifications; 

• Beginning at least one year before your child reaches the age of majority under state law (18 years in Ohio), a statement that your child has been informed of all rights under IDEA, that will transfer to him/her when he/she reaches age 18; and

• A statement of how your child’s progress toward the annual goals will be measured, how you will be regularly informed and the extent to which this progress is sufficient to enable your child to achieve the goals by the end of the year.

The IEP Team shall also review and consider the following special factors:

• Your child’s participation in various testing programs including proficiency tests;

• The transition of your child from preschool special education services (ages 3-5) to school-age special education services;

• Beginning at age 14 and updated annually, a statement of transition service needs that focus on your child’s courses of study (e.g., participation in advanced placement courses or a vocational education program);

• Based on your child’s needs, preferences and interests, beginning at age 16, a statement of needed transition services, including a statement of the responsibilities of the participating agencies and other community connections;

• A positive behavior plan if your child’s behavior interferes with his or her learning or that of others;

• Physical education programs that address your child’s individual needs;

• Your child’s need for extended school year services;

• The need for Braille instruction if your child has a visual impairment;

• The communication needs of your child, which include listening, speaking, reading and writing. If your child is deaf or hard of hearing, the IEP team shall consider your child’s language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communication with his/her classmates, teachers, and therapists in your child’s language and communication mode;

• Your child’s language needs as they relate to the IEP if he/she has limited English proficiency (LEP); and

• Your child’s need for assistive technology devices and services.

 What are the arrangements for an IEP meeting?

 The IEP meeting is arranged by the school district. The following details should be addressed:

• You and/or your child should be notified of the meeting early enough to ensure that you will have an opportunity to attend.

• The meeting should be scheduled at a mutually agreed upon time and place.

• The meeting notice should include the purpose, time, location and who will be attending.

• If you cannot attend, the school district shall use other methods to allow you to participate in the meeting, such as individual or conference telephone calls.

• If you cannot attend or participate, a meeting may be conducted without you.

• The school district must have a record of its attempts to reach you.

• The school district shall take whatever action is necessary to ensure that you understand the meeting including arranging for an interpreter if you are a person with a hearing impairment or if your native language is other than English.

• The school district shall give you a copy of your child’s completed IEP at no cost to you.

Who should be a member of the IEP team?

The school district shall ensure that the IEP team for each child includes:

• You, the parent(s);

• Your child, when appropriate, but always invited at the age of 14 and older;

• At least one of your child’s regular education teachers (if your child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment);

• At least one special education teacher or, where appropriate, at least one of your child’s special education providers (e.g., occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist);

• A representative of the school district who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction for children with disabilities. The district representative should also be knowledgeable about the general curriculum and about the availability of resources of the school district;

• A person who can explain the instructional implications of the evaluation results and how they affect your child in school;

• An individual with expertise or special knowledge about your child and invited by you or the school district; and

• A representative of any other agency likely to be responsible for providing or paying for transition services.

What is the responsibility of the IEP team?

IEP meeting participants shall complete the following sequence of activities:

Step 1: Discuss Future Planning

Everyone has dreams for the future, which guide actions, thoughts and plans. Putting dreams and visions into words is part of the ongoing, long-range planning for your child with a disability. As part of that effort, the IEP team will discuss and develop a vision for your child in his/her school, home and community.

Step 2: Discuss Present Levels of Performance

The IEP team will review relevant information about your child. This information includes progress on the current IEP, the evaluation team report, input from you and your child, interventions, assessments, observations, and special factors. This information provides a “picture” of your child including his/her strengths and needs.

Step 3: Identify Your Child’s Specialized Educational Needs for this IEP

The IEP team will determine the area(s) of your child’s specialized educational needs using the vision and his/her present levels of educational performance.

Step 4: Identify Measurable Goals, Objectives, and Assessment Procedures

The IEP team will develop measurable annual goals and objectives with accompanying assessment procedures, which enable your child to be involved with and progress in the general education curriculum. The team then determines what services are necessary to meet your child’s needs.

Step 5: Identify Needed Services

The IEP team decides how often, what services will be necessary, and who will provide them. This section of the IEP should include accommodations/modifications/ assistive devices and a statement of program modifications or supports for school personnel that are needed for the child to progress within the general curriculum and participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities.

Step 6: Determine Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Your child’s placement is presumed first to be the general education environment. If the team determines that a different setting is needed for any service delivery, the IEP team will provide an explanation of the extent, if any, to which your child is not participating with nondisabled children.

How is my child’s IEP reviewed and/or revised?

Your child’s IEP must be reviewed at least annually and revised, if appropriate. However, your child’s IEP may be reviewed/revised at any time during the school year at your request or at the school district’s request. You may wish to consider a revision of the IEP to address

• Any lack of expected progress toward the annual goals and in the general curriculum;

• Results of any reevaluation conducted;

• Information about your child provided to you or by you;

• Your child’s anticipated needs; or

• Other matters.

Source:  Department of Education – Columbus, Ohio

We are here to help before, during and after IEP or 504 meetings.  Please connect with Epilepsy Foundation of Southeast Tennessee for more information.