A 504 plan is part of an antidiscrimination law in the United States. It helps provide resources for children with disabilities. Students with a mental health or physical disability that impacts their ability to carry out activities of daily living can qualify for this plan. It is provided at no extra cost to families.
The plan covers accommodations or services the school can offer to help remove barriers so the child can continue going to school. Examples of accommodations include a health plan from the school nurse, modified textbooks, an adjusted class schedule, ramps or elevators, and more.
This article reviews who qualifies for a 504, how it is developed, what it covers, and what to expect.
Differences Between a 504 Plan and an IEP
The 504 and the individual education plan (IEP) are both designed to help support a child with disabilities at no cost to families. However, the 504 comes from an antidiscrimination law (the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) and the IEP falls under the special education law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Here are a few key differences:
- Eligibility: The 504 covers a wider variety of disabilities than the IEP. A 504 provides accommodations for a child with disabilities to overcome barriers at school. An IEP is more appropriate for a child who is falling behind academically.
- Evaluation: The 504 evaluation process is less formal than the IEP.
- Family notification and consent: Both plans require notification from parents or guardians before a change, meeting, or evaluation. Both also require consent. The IEP states that these must be in writing.
- Review requirements: An IEP has to be reviewed yearly and reevaluated every three years. Most states follow these same guidelines for the 504, but they can vary by state.
- Who creates it: The 504 is less specific about mandatory team members.
- Written document: The IEP has to be a written document, while the 504 does not.
- What’s in it: The 504 states what parties provide services and who ensures the plan is carried out. An IEP is more specific about a child’s performance, goals, and timing of services.
Who Needs a 504 Plan?
A 504 plan is intended for a child with a physical or mental health disability that impacts their daily activities. This includes physical disabilities that affect a child's ability to stand, walk, breathe, or eat. It could also involve an inability to communicate, concentrate, or read.
While it is possible for a child could have both an IEP and a 504, it’s unusual for them to have both. In general, an IEP plan is for a child falling behind academically. However, it can include many of the resources a 504 plan includes.
A 504 is available for children with disabilities who don’t qualify for special education. These children may have a disability that needs assistance, but they are not struggling to keep up with their learning or schoolwork.
Do Children With Chronic Illnesses Qualify?
Children with chronic illnesses such as asthma, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and more often qualify for a 504 plan.
What Is in a 504 Plan?
The 504 is a section of a civil rights law called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It helps stop discrimination against those with disabilities. A 504 is a proposal for how the school plans to help remove barriers for a child with a disability.
Making adaptations to the physical environment is one way the school can help. This includes accommodations within a regular classroom or in a special education classroom.
For example, they may allow children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to sit in front of the class or take a test in a quiet space.For children with chronic illnesses such as diabetes (condition in which the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t respond normally to insulin), the plan would allow them to see the school nurse several times a day. They could have their blood sugar checked, receive insulin, or have a snack to help with their blood sugar while there.
Further adaptations that could be in a 504 plan include:
- Modified textbooks
- Audio-visual aids
- Adjusted class schedule
- Verbal testing
- Physical or occupational therapy
Example of a 504 Plan
The following is an example of a 504 plan for a child who needs a wheelchair to help with mobility. They also have some trouble using eating or writing utensils. This student does not require special education or an IEP as they learn and retain information well.
Here are a few possible accommodations the school could take to help this child succeed:
- School nurse gives or monitors medication
- Technology assistance, such as voice-to-text tools for doing homework
- Provide handouts or notes in advance
- Ramps and elevators
- Assistance carrying books
- Extra books that can stay at the child's home
- Help with their lunch tray
- Special eating or writing utensils
- Physical therapy
- Educating students and teachers about their condition
The Evaluation Process
The request for a 504 usually comes from a parent, caregiver, or teacher (with parent approval). Once the request is made, the evaluation of eligibility is determined by a section 504 team. The 504 assessment is not as formal or lengthy as an IEP plan.
Team members include those who know the student and understand the evaluation criteria. Information that could be used includes:
- Medical records
- School records
- Classroom observations
- Test scores
- Behavioral records
- Sample school work
This information helps the team understand the mental or physical impairment that is causing difficulty for the child. The team decides if the disability limits one or more activities of daily living and the degree of limitation.
What to Expect
If you are a parent or guardian of a child who is being evaluated for a 504 plan, reach out to the school if you would like to be more involved. While most schools will send you an invitation to the meeting, they are not required by law to do so.
Make notes about what you would like to share during the meeting. This helps give the team a better picture of your child's strengths, weaknesses, interests, and personality.
Once a plan is in place, you can stay involved by keeping copies of the plan and reports of how your child is progressing. Communicate any questions or concerns you might have regarding the plan or your child’s progress.
A 504 plan is part of an antidiscrimination civil rights law called the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This plan provides resources for students who have a mental or physical disability that impacts their ability to perform activities of daily living. A 504 is provided at no extra cost to families.
While it is similar to an IEP plan, the 504 covers a wider range of eligible disabilities. The evaluation process is thorough, but it is less formal than the IEP.
The 504 plan involves accommodations or services the school can offer to help remove barriers so a student can receive their education. Accommodations might include extra textbooks to keep at home, help with mobility, sitting at the front of the classroom, an adjusted class schedule, ramps or elevators, and more.
A Word From Verywell
As a parent or guardian, it can be overwhelming to ensure your child is receiving support to overcome barriers related to their disability. A 504 is intended to help and works best if you are involved since you know your child better than anyone else. If you don’t think accommodations are helping, or you think they need new or different ones, don’t be shy about reaching out to the team.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Who qualifies for a 504 plan?
Children qualify for a 504 when they have one or more mental or physical disabilities that makes it difficult for them to complete daily activities.
How is a 504 plan different from an IEP?
The 504 is covered under an antidiscrimination law, while the IEP falls under a special education law. An IEP is typically for children who are falling behind academically. A 504 helps children with disabilities overcome barriers that affect their ability to attend school and receive an education.
What does a 504 plan cover?
The 504 is designed for students with a physical or mental disability that causes problems in one or more daily activity functions. This includes education in a regular classroom with accommodations or in a special education classroom.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities.
Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth.org. 504 Education Plans.
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans.
Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth.org. 504 education plans.
State of Utah School System. Examples of disabilities and accommodations.
Pennsylvania State Education Association. 504 accommodations guide.
By Brandi Jones, MSN-ED RN-BC
Brandi is a nurse and the owner of Brandi Jones LLC. She specializes in health and wellness writing including blogs, articles, and education.
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