Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. (Other sections of the Rehabilitation Act apply to affirmative action – Sections 501 and 503, accessible technology – Section 508, and legal remedies – Section 505.) The law applies to the federal government and organizations that receive financial assistance from any United States department or agency.
Section 504 states (in part):
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States … 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….
This is a broad prohibition, covering employment discrimination as well as discrimination which prevents or impedes access to services, such as education, recreation, housing, or travel, by any employer or organization which receives federal aid. Most schools, hospitals, human services organizations, airports, and a host of other organizations receive some aid from the federal government; thus Section 504 is wide-reaching.
Under Section 504, a “qualified individual with a disability” is someone who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. People who have a history of, or who are regarded as having, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity, are also covered. Major life activities include caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, and learning. Thus, many individuals on the autism spectrum are protected under Section 504.
Section 504 allows for reasonable accommodations to allow access to services or to allow an employee to perform the essential functions of a job. In the realm of education, examples of reasonable accommodations include extra time to take an exam, class outlines, or preferred seating. In the workplace, examples of reasonable accommodations include modified work schedules, assistive technology, or extra supervision.
- The Right to Accommodations in the Workplace
- Workplace Accommodations and Supports for Individuals with ASD
- Legal Protections against Employment Discrimination
- Accommodations in Higher Education
- 504 Basics (related to the education of school-age students)
- What Services are Available Under Section 504 (related to the education of school-age students)