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Difference Between IDEA and Sec. 504

IDEA vs Sec. 504

Parents who have disabled children in their family may have heard of special education programs in the name of IDEA and Section 504. These two programs have dissimilar characteristics in their purpose or regulation, services offered, definition of disability, and requirement for evaluation.

As a law on civil rights, Sec. 504 was aimed to deter discrimination in public institutions. IDEA serves another purpose, and that is to ensure that public institutions are able to provide FAPE or Free Appropriate Public Education to learners with disabilities who fall under at least one of the highlighted categories mandated by law.

Secondly, Sec. 504 is more on making the institution itself adapt to the presence of these learners with disabilities. As such, the school should be able to give to its disabled students the most appropriate type of education or accommodation. They are not in any way told to give more than what they are giving to normal students. On the other hand, IDEA has its services developed around the specific needs of the learners with a disability. This IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is done by first evaluating the learner’s current need. There are even some additional special IEP discussions done to the learner. In the end, the educational services under IDEA include therapies and other modes of instruction that are not immediately made available for normal learners.

Moreover, Sec. 504 is broader in scope in defining the term “disability.” As a result, any student with mental or physical disabilities that seriously affect his or her functioning in life can be enrolled under Sec. 504. Patients suffering from ADHD, PTB, AIDS, and Tourette’s syndrome, among others are eligible for Sec. 504. By contrast, IDEA is more specific as it covers only the learners with disabilities whose conditions fall under 13 specific predetermined diagnoses. However, some states in the U.S. formulate their own set of criteria. However, first it must be duly consented to by the Department of Education.

Although both Sec. 504 and IDEA need evaluation to establish the service eligibility, the evaluations of the latter are more comprehensive or broader compared to Sec. 504’s evaluations. This is most likely due to the complexity of the learner’s individualized needs in the IDEA program. This is very different from the simpler evaluations done in Sec. 504 wherein it can be as easy as administering an achievement assessment plus a clinical diagnosis from a qualified physician.


1.Sec. 504 is aimed to control or stop discrimination of students with disabilities in public institutions while IDEA creates a special type of education (FAPE) to these same learners.
2.The services offered in Sec. 504 should only be appropriate enough to the learners with disabilities as opposed to the services in IDEA wherein they are individualized and are given additional therapies that are not being given to normal learners.
3.Sec. 504 has a broader definition of “disability” as opposed to IDEA’s limited inclusion criteria.
4.Sec. 504’s evaluations are simpler than the evaluations in IDEA.

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