Both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. These acts are playing an increasingly large role for people with disabilities, particularly those who, for a variety of reasons, are not covered under the IDEA. The IDEA defines disability using categories. Children must fit into one of the specific, recognized categories, and they must need special education. Section 504 uses a broader definition: Any person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a record of such an impairment or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. The broader definition covers students who are transitioning out of special education programs because they reach age 21, or graduate from high school. It also includes students with ADHD, and those whose learning disabilities do not manifest a significant discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement.
Section 504 does not provide funding for special needs services, but it does require entities that receive federal funding to ensure students get FAPE, which means an education comparable to that provided to students without disabilities. Students can receive services under Section 504 even if they are not provided any special education. While Section 504 does require development of a plan, it does not need to be written, and the IEP process is not required, but is often used for the 504 plan