504 Plan

The Difference Between IEPs and 504 Plans

Both Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans can offer formal help for K–12 students with learning and attention issues. They’re similar in some ways but quite different in others. This chart compares them side-by-side to help you understand the differences.

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law designed to eliminate discrimination based on disability. During a student’s years in school, section 504 prohibits discrimination due to disability. Obligation of the schools starts when they receive federal dollars.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act states, “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States….shall solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Qualifications for 504:

  • Has a mental, learning or physical impairment, which substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities
  • Has a record of such an impairment
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment

A 504 plan, in elementary and high school, is determined by the school and by the student’s needs. In post-secondary settings, the student must identify their need for 504 accommodations.

Students who have a 504 plan during elementary and/or secondary education are supported by the school to assist them in identifying accommodations to ensure their SUCCESS in an academic setting.

However, once a student leaves high school, a 504 plan does not provide tools and accommodations unless the individual requests ACCESS to those accommodations and proves their necessity. Services that are provided after high school are the RESPONSIBILITY of the individual and not a program.

What does this mean for the students? It means that they need documentation of their disability and knowledge of the accommodations they need in order to succeed. They need skills in self-advocacy because they are responsible for their own destiny. Empowerment, self-esteem, and knowledge are essential tools in building the road to adulthood.

Disability Documentation

Upon graduation from high school, each institution and employer will ask for specific documentation to prove that an individual has a disability. Psychological reports from high school, private assessments, and doctor’s orders may all be means of documentation. Each institution/employer has their own requirements, which are outlined in their policies and procedures. Again, it is the student’s responsibility to understand what the procedure and requirements are for each situation.


Parents Let’s Unite for Kids (PLUK) is a statewide organization that assists parents when they have questions about how to implement a 504 plan.

Wrightslaw is an informational website to assist parents, educators, advocates, and attorneys with accurate, reliable information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities.