What is Section 504?
All bullying stems from discrimination of some sort or another. Section 504, and all of which it is attached, prohibits systemic bullying of persons with disabilities. If you or your child suffers the dilemma of a disability that severely impairs or impedes a lifestyle that most people would consider acceptable, then you or your child have rights under the laws of the federal government. These rights are enforced to provide what is needed to even the playing field, enabling those with disabilities to experience as normal a life as possible, including educating and supporting themselves.
What is section 504?
It is a civil rights law, a federal law that protects disabled persons from discrimination based on their impairment. People cannot be discriminated against because of a condition that puts them at a disadvantage. The section 504 plan does not list these disadvantages. They are determined on an individual basis and are qualified by three conditions:
- An impairment (mental or physical) considerably limiting at least one major life activity, such as walking, seeing, speaking, performing manual tasks, working, hearing, breathing, learning, and taking care of one’s self
- A history or record of said impairment
- Recognition by general consensus of having said impairment
Conditions that can be considered impairment include, but are not limited to: alcoholism, legal blindness, cancer, mental illness, heart disease, diabetes, AIDS, and drug addiction. Section 504 accommodations for federal agencies vary according to the programs of the agency. For example, federal education agencies focus section 504 education applications to students who fit the above criteria. Each agency enforces its particular regulations.
These conditions were introduced with The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and are connected to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 replaced the Vocational Rehabilitation Act and provided the following revisions:
- extended authorization to states for grants for people with severe disabilities to receive vocational rehabilitation services
- expanded the responsibilities of the federal government to research and provide training programs for individuals with severe disabilities
- established the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare with additional responsibilities to coordinate programs within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare respecting severely disabled persons
This important act makes it unlawful to deny anyone with severe disabilities access to programs that are conducted by, benefits provided by, or employment at any federally funded or partially federally funded agency or organization.
The section 504 ADA breaks down into three sections called titles and addresses employment, education, and accommodations in public facilities.
Employment discrimination is determined according to Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and is applied to The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. ADA section 504 applies to employers with at least 15 employees, and includes state and local government agencies, labor organizations, employment agencies, and even private companies and businesses. Qualified individuals with disabilities cannot be prohibited from the application or hiring process, training, compensation, or career advancement. They cannot be fired or reprimanded based on their disability.
Title II of ADA is a more focused look at how state and local government are involved. State and local governments are responsible for providing equal opportunities to their services, programs, and activities to the disabled. Courts, employment, health care, public education, recreation, social services, town meetings, transportation, and voting are just a few examples of what this title covers.
Accommodations for school age children with disabilities fall into this category. Physical restrictions beyond impairment of movement, like diabetes or epilepsy, are taken into consideration for the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). This also applies to those who may need additional accommodations in the forms of adjusted assignments and test taking policies. These students require and receive appropriate accommodations according to their individual needs. These accommodations are designed to enhance their experience while maintaining a semblance of normalcy for them and their classmates.
These concerns do not end with graduation from high school, and are extended into post – secondary educational facilities. University and college students with disabilities cannot be discriminated against in academic or athletic activities or programs, recruitment or admissions, housing, counseling, career planning or placement, examinations or evaluations, or financial aid. Though these prohibitions do not speak to the environment itself, these public systems are expected to provide relatively safe and accessible buildings and classrooms, as well as programs and activities.
Access is not just defined as opportunity to participate; it also means that state and local governments must physically accommodate disabled persons. Newly constructed buildings and structures must meet specific requirements that provide alternative access to public areas. Ramps, the placement of door handles, railings, elevators, and many other accommodations must be taken into account in the building designs and blue prints.
State and local governments are also responsible for buildings and structures completed before these acts were passed. Agencies or services that are provided in these places must either relocate to an acceptable building, or modify the existing one. Public entities are required to avoid discrimination by making modifications to their procedures, practices, and policies, so long as they does not inhibit the fundamental nature of the program or service that is being provided, or anything that would defeat the purpose of its existence. Federal law dictates that they must be able to communicate with the hearing, seeing, and speech impaired. They must also modify the physical state of the building or structure, so long as it does not present excessive administrative or financial difficulty.
Title II noncompliance may be addressed by the Department of Justice, one of their mediation programs, or in federal court. The department itself may be compelled to intervene when violations remain unresolved.
Title III also deals with physical access to buildings and structures, but focuses more of privately owned facilities and public facilities that are not connected to federal programs or funding. Businesses that are available to the general public like movie theaters, restaurants, day care establishments, doctors’ offices, schools, recreation facilities, office buildings, and such, are required to accommodate the disabled according to the ADA compliance.