Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans can both offer immense amounts of aid to disabled students and their families. They also open up communication between the student, their family, the school, and disability experts. If you are a parent to a child with disabilities, you are probably curious about IEPs and 504 plans. Read on to learn more about IEPs vs. 504 plans, and find out what will work best for your family.

Where Does It Come From?

504 plans are established via Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 while Individualized Education Programs originate from Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act of 1975, also called IDEA

The two pieces of legislation serve two different but related goals. The Rehabilitation Act, which came first, is fundamentally a civil rights law. It aims to stop discrimination against disabled people in many different facets of life. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act is special education law. IDEA aims to work with schools to create spaces for disabled children to learn and thrive.

The different origins of these two plans means that they will vary slightly, but due to the similar intentions between the two pieces of legislation, there is plenty of overlap between IEPs and 504 plans.


IEPs, with their origins in the IDEA legislation, apply to students who qualify as disabled under that act. There are 13 distinct categories defined in the act: autism spectrum disorder, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment, specific learning disability, or other health impairment. The categories are quite broad at times, but a child must be diagnosed and assigned a specific category before they can receive an IEP.

Section 504 has a much broader definition of disability as “something that substantially limits one or more basic life activities.” Due to the much more general definition, a child can qualify for a 504 plan, but not necessarily an IEP. 

However, there is overlap between the two plans concerning who can benefit from them. Both acts of legislation maintain that the student’s disability needs to impact their educational endeavors. IEPs and 504 plans have different solutioons that depend on how the student is impacted by their disability.

Services Provided

Students with IEPs receive special education. This means that they often are in a special education classroom with other special needs students. IEPs often provide the advantage of supplying special education teachers that have studied how to best help students with a variety of disabilities.

While IEPs focus on building an environment, 504 plans instead remove barriers and changes the environment to make a classroom accommodating to a student with disabilities. 

IEP and 504 plan accomodations are provided for students free of charge. Families do not have to pay for any of their children’s education. However, states receive federal funding for their students with IEP, while they do not receive additional funding for 504 plans. When states get money for IEP students, that money cannot be used for 504 plan students.