Who qualifies for a 504 plan in America?

In the United States, a 504 plan refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. To qualify for a 504 plan, a student must have a documented disability that substantially limits one or more basic life activities. This can include physical or mental impairments that impact functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

A 504 plan is designed to provide support and remove barriers to education within a general education setting. Unlike an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which requires specific educational criteria for eligibility under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a 504 plan requires a broader definition of disability and doesn’t necessitate specialized instruction.

To qualify for a 504 plan in America, the following criteria must be met:
1. The individual must have a documented disability.
2. The disability must impair one or more major life activities.
3. The impairment must be substantial.

The evaluation process includes assessments and documentation provided by medical professionals, educators, and psychologists. Parents or legal guardians usually initiate the request for evaluation from their child’s school. Schools then convene a team to determine eligibility; this team often includes teachers, school psychologists or counselors, and other relevant professionals who are familiar with the student.

Eligibility for a 504 plan is determined on a case-by-case basis because the impact of disabilities can vary widely between individuals. For instance, two students with the same medical diagnosis may not equally qualify if one student’s educational performance is not substantially limited. Therefore, it is vital that evaluations for 504 plans are individualized and consider the unique needs and challenges faced by each student. If eligible, the school will develop an accommodation plan tailored specifically to address the barriers impacting the student’s equal access to learning in their school environment.

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