Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

What is the law?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that:

"No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States...shall, solely by reason of...handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."

Who is protected under the law?

A "handicapped person" means "any person who

  • has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities;
  • has a record of such an impairment, or
  • is regarded as having such an impairment."

A "qualified handicapped person" is defined as one who meets the requisite academic and technical standards required for admission or participation in the postsecondary institution's programs and activities. Section 504 protects the civil rights of individuals who are qualified to participate and who have disabilities such as, but not limited to, the following:

  • blindness or visual impairments
  • cerebral palsy
  • Chronic illnesses, such as:
    • AIDS
    • arthritis
    • cancer
    • cardiac diseases
    • diabetes
    • multiple sclerosis
    • muscular dystrophy
    • psychiatric disorders
  • deafness or hearing impairments
  • drug or alcohol addiction (Section 504 covers former users and those in recovery programs and not currently using drugs or alcohol.)
  • epilepsy or seizure disorders
  • mental retardation
  • orthopedic handicap
  • specific learning disability
  • speech disorder
  • spinal cord or traumatic brain injury

What is the impact of the law on postsecondary education?

Colleges and universities receiving federal financial assistance must not discriminate in the recruitment, admission, or treatment of students. Students with documented disabilities may request modifications, accommodations, or auxiliary aids which will enable them to participate in and benefit from all postsecondary educational programs and activities. Postsecondary institutions must make such changes to ensure that the academic program is accessible to the greatest extent possible by all student with disabilities.

Under the provisions of Section 504, universities and colleges may NOT:

  • limit the number of students with disabilities admitted
  • make preadmission inquiries as to whether or not an applicant is disabled
  • use admissions tests or criteria that inadequately measure the academic qualifications of disabled students because special provisions were not made for them
  • exclude a qualified student with a disability from any course of study.
  • limit eligibility to a student with a disability for financial assistance or otherwise discriminate in administering scholarships, fellowships, internships, or assistantships on the basis of handicap.
  • counsel a student with a disability toward a more restrictive career
  • measure student achievement using modes that adversely discriminate against a student with a disability
  • establish rules and policies that may adversely affect students with disabilities.

Portions of 504 summary contributed by Portland Community College