IDEA, ADA, IEP and Section 504 Plans

What Happens at Marymount?

Many students and families find it difficult to understand how different disability laws affect the provision of services at Marymount.  The below text offers a written description of three very important laws.  A table explaining direct comparison may be found here.


  • The IDEA stands for The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The IDEA is a federal law that governs early intervention, special education and related services for disabled schoolchildren ages 3-21 (or until high school graduation). The IDEA requires public schools to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for each disabled child.
  • IEPs are developed by the educational team for the child and seek to tailor the child’s educational program to meet his or her individualized needs, which may include participation in a special education program. The IEP is designed to promote student success in the K-12 system.


  • The ADA stands for The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • The ADA is a federal civil rights law designed to provide equal opportunity for qualified individuals with disabilities, including students.
  • The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a qualified disability and ensures that qualified disabled students can have equal access and opportunity for participation in the programs, services and activities offered by a recipient of federal financial assistance.
  • The ADA was amended in 2008 by, among other things, expanding the definition of disability and what it means to be regarded as disabled under the statute.

Section 504

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a law that protects individuals from discrimination based on their disability in connection with any public or private program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
  • 504 Plans are developed when a K-12 student needs certain accommodations and modifications to either the physical space in the school or the learning environment (but not a special education program, as that would be part of an IEP under the IDEA).
  • The Act is divided into seven subparts.  The most relevant sections in this discussion are: 1) Subpart D which applies to K-12 schools and 2) Subpart E which applies to postsecondary institutions that states that postsecondary students must be granted the opportunity to compete with their non-disabled peers.

Important Points

  • IEPs and 504 Plans may not suffice as adequate documentation in postsecondary institutions since both are required under sections of the laws that do not apply once the student attends college.  IEP’s and 504 Plans are sometimes helpful to colleges, but are often insufficient as the sole form of documentation.
  • The purpose of the IDEA is to ensure student success in the K-12 system.  The ADA and Section 504 are designed to ensure access.  Academic success in college is the student’s responsibility.