504 Plan Eligibility Requirements

Instructor: Lisa Howells

Lisa's teaching experience includes various grades and subjects K-8 and postsecondary. Her Master's degree is in Education and Administration.

504 plans are developed to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination in public programs. Individuals must meet certain criteria to be considered for a 504 plan. In this lesson, we'll explore these eligibility requirements.

What is a 504 plan?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law developed to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination in programs and activities that receive federal funding. The law states that all individuals with disabilities must be provided a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), no matter the type of disability or its severity. 504 plans are the vehicles through which individuals receive accommodations for disabilities.

Defining the Disability

There is no specific list of disabilities for individuals qualifying for a 504 plan. Instead, a handicap is more broadly defined as a disability, long-term illness or disorder that significantly limits the individual in one or more essential life activities.

Examples of disabilities include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, asthma, depression, chronic fatigue and allergies, among many others. Note that these limitations are also specifically mental or physical conditions. Individuals with drug or alcohol dependency problems are not eligible for 504 plans.

Qualifying Criteria

To be eligible for a 504 plan, a student must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Have a mental or physical limitation or handicap that significantly impacts one or more essential life activities, like learning, concentration, walking, social interactions, breathing and diet.
  • Provide evidence of the limitation or handicap, such as a doctor's report or some other type of medical or psychological evaluation.
  • Be considered by others to have a significant limitation or handicap and be treated as such by others.

Considering Temporary Disabilities

When determining a student's 504 plan eligibility, the duration of a disability is also considered. Conditions lasting 6 months or less may not qualify an individual for a 504 plan, and these conditions need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis. You may need to evaluate the severity of the disability and the degree of impairment limiting life activities, in addition to the duration of the disability.

So, for example, if a student breaks her leg during the school year and will only be in a cast for 6 weeks, she may not need an official 504 plan. But another student who is in a major car accident and will have a long recovery is likely to qualify for one. People with conditions or illnesses that return intermittently, as well as those in remission, qualify for 504 plans during periods of time that the individual is affected.

IEP versus 504 Plan

Students who qualify for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). It's important to recognize that an IEP is not the same as a 504 plan. An IEP provides special education students with individualized, goal-oriented special education. On the other hand, the 504 plan does not necessarily entail special education and those on 504 plans are not necessarily special education students--individuals may qualify for 504 plans regardless of intelligence or mental ability.

For example, a student of average or above average intelligence with epilepsy may have a 504 plan (not an IEP). The 504 plan may address procedures and safeguards related to his epilepsy without requiring any modifications to instruction for the student.

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