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Section 504 in 2009: Broader Eligibility, More Accommodations

Section 504 - About Section 504Did you know that, effective January 2009, eligibility for protection under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act became broader? Some students who did not qualify for Section 504 in the past, or who were not eligible for services and supports under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) may now qualify for Section 504 plans. Students with Section 504 plans may now qualify for additional supports, services, auxiliary aids, and/or accommodations in public schools. For many students with learning disabilities (LD) and/or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), this is good news! These positive changes are the result of recent amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a broad civil rights law that also impacts Section 504.

You'll be especially interested in these developments if:

  • Your child was evaluated under IDEA but was found ineligible.
  • Your child was previously evaluated for Section 504 but was found ineligible.
  • Your child is currently receiving informal accommodations in school.
  • Your child has a Section 504 plan in place. (If your child has an IEP, he is automatically considered to have a 504 plan.)
  • Your child needs accommodations on the SAT or ACT.
  • Your teenager is getting ready to go college.


What Is the Connection Between Section 504 and The ADA?

What does the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) have to do with Section 504? Both are civil rights laws that protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. Section 504 was enacted in 1973 and applies to all programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. This includes public schools, colleges, and universities as well as certain employers, state and local government programs, and places of public accommodation (such as a public library). So the “common denominator” between Section 504 and ADAAA related to school-age students is protecting students with disabilities from being discriminated against in our public schools.

The ADAAA includes a “conforming amendment” to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; meaning that the newly expanded coverage under ADAAA also applies to Section 504. Matt Cohen, an attorney who works on behalf of children with disabilities in disputes with public schools, explains, “Because ADA and 504 are interpreted in parallel, the ADAAA will be applied to the public schools in their interpretation of both the ADAAA and Section 504.”

How Things Have Changed With ADAAA

Why Do You Need to Know About These Changes?

While ADAAA is already in effect, don't assume your school district fully understands how it applies to Section 504. To advocate effectively for your child, you'll want to understand:

  • How the law has changed;
  • How the new law may apply to your child, and,
  • What steps you can take to ensure your child is properly evaluated and/or accommodated under Section 504.

Because of the ADAAA, more students may now qualify as persons with disabilities entitled to protection from discrimination based on their disabilities. They also may now be eligible to receive special education or general education with related services and reasonable accommodations, including auxiliary aids and services in school, under Section 504.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 includes several significant changes, which also apply to Section 504

The definition of “major life activities” was expanded to include learning, reading, concentrating, and thinking. Also, the definition of “major bodily functions” has been expanded to include neurological and brain functions. This change makes it much easier for individuals with LD and/or ADHD to qualify for protections under ADAAA.

  • ADAAA requires that the limitation on a “major” life activity be broadly, rather than narrowly, interpreted.
  • Conditions that are episodic or in remission are covered when they are active. For example, a student with ADHD may be affected by his symptoms differently and at different times and under different conditions. ADAAA does not disqualify him from protection on that basis alone.
  • Under ADAAA a person cannot be denied protection simply because he uses a mitigating measure, such as taking medication for ADHD, or being allowed extra time when taking tests to accommodate for an LD. (The only exception to this is corrective lenses that fully correct a vision problem.)
  • Limitation in one major life activity need not impact other major life activities in order to trigger ADAAA protection. Some students with disabilities struggle in just one academic area, such as reading or writing, but excel in other skills or subjects, and shine in extracurricular activities. Such students might now qualify for ADAAA protection, whereas before 2009 they would have been found ineligible because they struggled in only one major life activity.