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Rehabilitation Act Section 504: Accommodations & Regulations

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the first law protecting people with disabilities from discrimination in the United States. Find out how Section 504 affects employers, students, and teachers in companies and schools. Updated: 12/07/2021

Section 504 and Who It Affects

Did you ever have a friend at school who had to use crutches or a wheelchair? Maybe you shared your lunch table with a fellow student who had Down Syndrome or needed insulin injections. If so, your friend or fellow student most benefited from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the first law that was passed in the United States to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. The important part says:

'No qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.'

The post office isn't the only agency the legislation singles out; it also specifically targets schools. Section 504 says that schools can't discriminate against disabled persons based on their disability in employment or in education. In sum, Section 504 says schools need to give students with disabilities the same education as mainstream students. Additionally, schools can't refuse to hire or fail to promote someone with a disability who is otherwise qualified.

So, who is disabled under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act? A qualified individual with a disability is one who has a history of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing and speaking; you get the idea. To be a qualified individual with a disability for the purpose of getting a job, you must be able to perform the essential functions of a job with reasonable accommodation.

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  • 0:05 Section 504 and Who It Affects
  • 2:02 Employment Accommodations
  • 2:35 Educational Accommodations
  • 3:27 Employment Regulations
  • 4:23 Educational Regulations
  • 6:07 Lesson Summary
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Employment Accommodations

In an employment setting, Section 504 says that a qualified employee is one who can do the job with a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation means anything an employer can do to help you do the job, without causing undue hardship to the company. For example, an employer might provide a sign language interpreter for someone who is deaf. If an accommodation gets too expensive or disruptive, it may no longer be reasonable, and an employer might not have to provide it.

Educational Accommodations

Section 504 also requires schools to make accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. Schools need to identify and evaluate students with disabilities to make sure their needs are met to the same extent as their peers. For instance, they may have to provide special education or supplementary services. As much as possible, schools are required to put a student with disabilities in the same class as students without disabilities.

Colleges and postsecondary education programs also have to make academic adjustments, if necessary, to make sure that students with disabilities enjoy the same opportunities for learning as mainstream students. This might include giving a student more time to complete his or her degree or offering an alternative oral exam for a student who can't write or type.

Employment Regulations

The Office of Civil Rights, Department of Education created regulations to carry out the aims of Section 504. The regulations ban discrimination in employment, accessibility, and education that:

  • Prevent individuals with disabilities from getting benefits and services from federally funded programs
  • Create or fail to remove physical barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from accessing programs, services, benefits, or opportunities
  • Prevent someone who is otherwise qualified and entitled from being hired or promoted

Employers need to take active steps to recruit and promote persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified for specific positions. None of the decisions an employer makes, like who gets hired, their salary, job assignments or award of tenure, can have a discriminatory effect.

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