Every student with a disability is protected from discrimination under federal law— Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law prohibits discrimination based on disability in any program or activity that receives funding from the federal government. All Washington state public schools must comply with this federal law. Section 504 requires public schools to provide a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to every student with a disability—regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. Under Section 504, schools must provide students with disabilities the accommodations, aids, and services they need to access and benefit from education equally with their peers.
What is a Disability under Section 504?
Section 504 defines disability as a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. This definition of disability should be interpreted broadly. Major life activities are activities that are important to most people’s daily lives. Caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, eating, sleeping, standing, bending, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating are some examples of major life activities.
Major life activities also include major bodily functions, such as functions of the digestive, bowel, bladder, brain, circulatory, reproductive, neurological, or respiratory systems.
Substantially limits should also be interpreted broadly. A student’s impairment does not need to prevent, or severely or significantly restrict, a major life activity to be substantially limiting.
Evaluate Disability without Mitigating Measures
Mitigating measures cannot be considered when evaluating whether or not a student has a substantially limiting impairment. Mitigating measures could include medications, prosthetic devices, assistive devices, or learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications a student uses to eliminate or reduce the effects of an impairment.
An impairment that is episodic or in remission remains a disability if, when in an active phase, this impairment substantially limits a major life activity.