Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal statute, which guarantees the rights of disabled people to equal opportunity in all programs and activities, which receive federal financial assistance. It prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals solely on the basis of handicap.

Public school districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, as recipients of federal funds, are required to remove any communications, architectural, policy and practice or any other barriers that prevent disabled people from participating in, benefiting from or being employed by such programs.

Section 504 regulations apply to state education agencies, elementary and secondary school systems, colleges and universities, libraries, vocational schools and state vocational rehabilitation agencies.

Every public school system must:

  • Provide a “free appropriate public education” to each qualified person in the district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the person’s disability and in the most integrated setting appropriate;
  • Ensure that the concept of least restrictive environment is followed which means that handicapped persons must be educated with persons who are not handicapped to the maximum extent appropriate;
  • Operate its programs or activities in such a way that “when viewed in its entirety is readily accessible to handicapped persons.” This program is called “program accessibility” since each unique program must be accessible. This means that every building or facility does not have to be accessible, so long as the program as a whole is accessible.

Related Links

  • A Guide to Disability Rights Law 
    "This guide provides an overview of Federal civil rights laws that ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities."


  • DHHS Section 504 regulation at 45 CFR Part 84 
    "The purpose of this part is to effectuate section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is designed to eliminate discrimination on the basis of handicap in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."