Congress passed Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973 to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in programs that receive federal funds. All public schools and many independent schools receive federal funds and are required to follow Section 504 guidelines.
Section 504 guarantees that students with disabilities who qualify must have equal access to all academic and non-academic activities and programs, including after school programs. Children with disabilities, who are ineligible for special education, may qualify for services and accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
This federal law
- requires individuals with disabilities to be given access to programs and activities in public buildings
- requires schools to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students who qualify
- prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in secondary and vocational programs receiving federal dollars
- requires schools to provide related services and accommodations to qualified students with disabilities regardless of eligibility for special education.
Students may qualify for protection under Section 504 if they have a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or must have a record of having such a disability, or must be regarded as having a disability. (The person has been treated as though he or she has a disability.)
A major life activity is substantially limited when a person is unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform.
Major life activities refer to functions such as, but not limited to, caring for oneself, eating, sleeping, reading, walking, seeing, hearing, bending, standing, speaking, breathing, thinking, concentrating, communicating, and performing manual tasks. Major life activities also include major bodily functions of the immune system, bladder, bowel, brain, respiratory, circulatory, and endocrine functions, as well as normal cell development.