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Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)

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Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), as amended, prohibits discrimination based on disability in any program or activity receiving federal funding, including education. The U.S. Department of Education gives grants of financial assistance to schools and colleges and to certain other entities, including vocational rehabilitation programs. The U.S. Department of Education's Section 504 regulation is enforced by the Office of Civil Rights and is in the federal code of regulations at 34 CFR Part 104.

Section 504 covers institutions regardless of whether they have open door, selective or competitive admissions practices, and applies to all postsecondary educational programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. In brief, colleges and universities must be free from discrimination in their recruitment, admissions, and treatment of students. If the postsecondary school provides housing to students without disabilities, then it must provide comparable, convenient, accessible housing to students with disabilities at the same cost. A person who qualifies under this law:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities*

  • Has a record of such an impairment

  • Is regarded as having an impairment

*Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.

Under the provisions of Section 504, a college or university may not:

  • Limit the number of students with disabilities admitted

  • Make pre-admission inquiries as to whether or not an applicant has a disability

  • Exclude a student with a disability from any course of study solely on the basis of his/her disability

  • Counsel students with disabilities towards a more restrictive career than students without disabilities, unless such counsel is based on strict professional licensing or certification requirements

  • Institute prohibitive rules (such as barring of tape recorders or other auxiliary aids) that may adversely affect the performance of students with disabilities

Colleges and universities are not required to supply students with attendants, individually prescribed devices such as hearing aids and wheelchairs, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature.

However, colleges and universities must provide students with academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services that are necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in the school's program.

Examples of auxiliary aids that may be required are taped texts, note takers, interpreters, readers, and specialized computer equipment. In addition, course examinations should measure the student's achievement, not the student's impairments. (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, 2001)

Resources for more information:

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Repsonsibilities available at www.ed.gov/OCR

U. S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights Know Your Rights WEB PAGE available at www.ed.gov/ocr/disabilities. Contact the OCR office at 1-800-421-3481 or by FAX at 202-205-9862; or TDD: 877-521-2172 or by email to OCR@ed.gov.

Section 504: Protection from Discrimination or Help for College Students with Disabilities at Wrightslaw.com available at www.wrightslaw.com/info/sec504.index.htm


Excerpted from Virginia's College Guide for Students with Disabilities (2003 Edition).