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Section 504 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based upon disability. Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled students are met.

Section 504 states that: "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 706(8) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…" [29 U.S.C. §794(a), 34 C.F.R. §104.4(a)].

As defined by federal law: "An individual with a disability means any person who:

(i) has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity;

(ii) has a record of such an impairment; or

(iii) is regarded as having such an impairment" [34 C.F.R. §104.3(j)(1)].

Physical or mental impairments. Section 504 defines a physical or mental impairment as any

  • physiological disorder or condition,
  • cosmetic disfigurement, or
  • anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine.

The Section 504 definition of physical and mental impairment also includes any mental or psychological disorder.11 The definition does not include all specific diseases and conditions that may be physical or mental impairments because of the difficulty of ensuring the completeness of such a list.

To summarize, major life activities include certain acts a person does (such as hearing, speaking, lifting) and a person's bodily functions (such as lung disease that affects a person’s respiratory system, or a traumatic brain injury that affects the function of the brain).

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