Accessible Instructional Materials and the Section 504 Plan
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The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that pre-K through secondary students (age 3–22) with disabilities be provided with a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE), and that “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” (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. 794). The United States Department of Education notes that while the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is more prescriptive with respect to instruction and the provision of special education services, Section 504 is designed to ensure equal access.
Section 504 re-affirms the responsibility of public schools to provide students with disabilities an opportunity to participate in academic and non-academic activities in a manner equivalent to the participation of their non-disabled peers. The school may provide this opportunity through the use of supplementary aids and services, commonly referred to as “accommodations” and “modifications,” based upon the individual student’s needs. For additional information regarding the requirements of Section 504, see A parent's guide to Section 504 in public schools from Great Schools or Understanding the Differences Between IDEA and Section 504 from LDonline. With regard to accessible instructional materials (AIM), Section 504 safeguards the rights of students with disabilities to be provided with specialized formats—Braille, audio, digital text; large print (see Section 504: Legal Foundations of the Right to Accessible Information from the American Foundation for the Blind). Many students who struggle to access print or to extract information from traditional printed materials due to sensory and/or physical disabilities may not need Special Education services under IDEA but are nevertheless eligible to receive specialized-format materials, especially if this accommodation means that they can pursue learning within the general education classroom. These determinations are generally made by a multi-disciplinary Section 504 team.
For additional information regarding Section 504 please see Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities, a publication of the Office of Civil Rights, United States Department of Education.