What’s the difference between an IEP and a 504?

Dec 30, 17 What’s the difference between an IEP and a 504?

What’s the difference between an IEP and a 504

As parents of children with disabilities, community members, and professionals (yes they have a hard time deciphering too) it can be difficult to determine what type of services a child needs. When developing special education services we should ask what is the difference between an IEP and a 504? Why would a  diagnosis qualify for an IEP or 504? Well, let’s take a look at a table from the Maryland Department of Disabilities provided by Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

A COMPARISON of ADA, IDEA, and Section 504

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 represent three attempts to improve the living conditions of those with disabilities.

Type and purpose




A civil rights law to prohibit discrimination solely on the basis of disability in employment, public services, and accommodations. An education act to provide federal financial assistance to State and local education agencies to guarantee special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities. A civil rights law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities, public and private, that receive federal financial assistance.

Who is protected?




Any individual with a disability who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities; or (2) has a record of such impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.  Further, the person must be qualified for the program, service, or job. Children ages 3-21 who are determined by a multidisciplinary team to be eligible within one or more of 13 specific disability categories and who need special education and related services.  Categories include autism, deafness, deaf-blindness, hearing impairments, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairments, other health impairments, serious emotional disturbance, specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairments 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.  Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.

Provides for a free, appropriate public education (FAPE)




Not directly.  However, (1) ADA protections apply to nonsectarian private schools, but not to organization or private schools, or entities controlled by religious organization; (2) ADA provided additional protection in combination with actions brought under Section 504.  Reasonable accommodations are required for eligible students with a disability to perform essential functions of the job.  This applies to any part of the special education program that may be community-based and involve job training/placement. Yes.  A FAPE is defined to mean special education and related services.  Special education means “specially designed instruction at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of the child with a disability…”  Related services are provided if students, require them in order to benefit from specially designed instruction.  States are required to ensure the provision of “full educational opportunity” to all children with disabilities.  IDEA requires the development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) document with specific content and a required number of participants at an IEP meeting. Yes.  An “appropriate” education means an education comparable to that provided to students without disabilities.  This may be defined as regular or special education services.  Students can receive related services under Section 504 even if they are not provided any special education.  Section 504 does require development of a plan, although this written document is not mandated.  The Individualized Education Program (IEP) of IDEA may be used for the Section 504 written plan.  Many experts recommend that a group of persons knowledgeable about the students convene and specify the agreed-upon services.

Funding to implement services




No, but limited tax credits may be available for removing architectural or transportation barriers.  Also, many federal agencies provide grant funds to support training and to provide technical assistance to public and private institutions. Yes.  IDEA provides federal funds under Parts B and C to assist states and local education agencies in meeting IDEA requirements to serve infants, toddlers and youth with disabilities. No.  State and local jurisdictions have responsibility.  IDEA funds may not be used to serve children found eligible under Section 504.

Procedural safeguards




The ADA does not specify procedural safeguards related to special education; it does detail the administrative requirements complaint procedures, and consequences for noncompliance related to both services and employment. IDEA requires written notice to parents regarding identification, evaluation, and/or placement.  Further, written notice must be made prior to any change in placement.  The Act delineates the required components of the written notices. Section 504 requires notice to parents regarding identification, evaluation and/or placements.  Written notice is recommended.  Notice must be made only before a “significant change” in placement.  Following IDEA procedural safeguards is one way to comply with Section 504 mandates.

Evaluation and placement procedures




The ADA does not specify evaluation and placement procedures: it does specify provision of reasonable accommodations for eligible activities and settings.  Reasonable accommodations may include, but are not limited to, redesigning equipment, assigning aides, providing written communication in alternative formats, modifying tests, redesigning services to accessibility locations, altering existing facilities, and building new facilities. A comprehensive evaluation is required.  A multidisciplinary team evaluates the child, and parental consent is required before evaluation.  IDEA requires that reevaluations be conducted at least every 3 years.  For evaluation and placement decisions, IDEA requires that more than one single procedure or information source be used; that information from all sources be documented and carefully considered; that the eligibility decision be made by a group of persons who know about the student, the evaluation data, and placement options; and that the placement decision serves the student in the least restrictive environment.  An IEP meeting is required before any change in placement. Unlike IDEA, Section 504 requires only notice, not consent, for evaluation.  It is recommended that district obtain parental consent.  Like IDEA evaluation and placement procedures under Section 504 require that information be obtained from a variety of sources of the area of concern; that all data are documented and considered; and that decisions are made by a group of persons knowledgeable about the student, evaluation data, and placement options.  Section 504 requires that students be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate.  Section 504 does not require a meeting for any change in placement.

Due process




The ADA does not delineate specific due process procedures.  People with disabilities have the same remedies that are available under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended in 1991.  Thus, individuals who are discriminated against may file a complaint with the relevant federal agency or due in federal court.  Enforcement agencies encourage informal mediation and voluntary compliance. IDEA delineates specific requirements for local education agencies to provide impartial hearings for parents who disagree with the identification, evaluation, or placement of a child. Section 504 requires local education agencies to provide impartial hearings for parents who disagree with the identification, evaluation, or placement of a student.  It requires that parents have an opportunity to participate in the hearing process and to be represented by counsel.  Beyond this, due process details are left to the discretion of the local education agency.  It is recommended that districts develop policy guidelines and procedures.

NOW! That is a lot to take in. What are the important parts?

A 504 does not require parental input and consent for how services are provided. Only significant changes require parent notification.

Unless it’s a big deal they don’t have to tell you anything.

An IEP is much more involved and requires evaluation by a multidisciplinary team and written notification to the parent.

Parents are much more involved and have more rights.

The other significant part is that the IEP has 13 specific categories BUT one of them is OTHER HEALTH IMPAIRMENTS. This is an important distinction. Why? Because it is impossible to determine what type of health impairment can impact a child’s ability to learn. This is very significant as we discuss the possibility of changing a child’s 504 plan to an IEP and vice versa in a future post.


Disability Support: Mastering the art of sharing power.

SETH TALK – Makeia Kelly sets up 9th grade IEP

504? What the heck is a 504 Plan?

Can I change a 504 to an IEP? Well… maybe.

Exceptional Minds special education. Brilliant futures in visual arts for adults with ASD

Get the FAPE in here! Supreme Court ruling supporting special education.

Autism Awareness Month. Inclusion. Accommodations.

Time to vent: The disability transportation road to redemption in Baltimore City

Disability Education Mental Health Education

Mom. Dad. You’re messing up… and it’s OK. Disabilities and parenting perfection. And imperfection.

Your child is diagnosed with autism. CONGRATULATIONS!



Join the conversation. Click here to register your profile. Comment on articles, chat with others and more!

Share your story with the community. Click here to contact us about doing a SETH TALK.

Interested in becoming a guest writer for Seth’s Mom. Click here to contact us.

Plan your day with Seth’s Mom. Click here to visit our Events page.


External Resources

Support program: Autism Sibling Support Initiative

Support program: Sibling Support Project

Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council

Maryland Early Intervention and Special Education Services

Administration for Community Living

Pathfinders for Autism

Disability Scoop

Disability Rights Disability Fund

Leave a Comment

Skip to toolbar