In this blog, I’m talking about examples within a 504 plan. I will go through specific examples of disabilities that qualify for a 504 plan, accommodations, and examples of those, and then examples of where those accommodations would take place inside the educational institution.
So first, let’s start with the examples of diagnoses or disabilities that would qualify your student or child for a 504 plan.
I can’t give an inclusive list because 504 plans, specifically their eligibility, are very broad. So, federal law states that a student must either have a mental or physical impairment. It can be any, and this applies to all 50 states. You can learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law protecting individuals with disabilities.
This is different from an IEP.
In an IEP, a student has to have a disability that fits within 13 categories. A 504 plan is any physical or mental impairment substantially limiting a major life activity. So this doesn’t mean that it rises to the level that the child needs to be pulled out for special education services. Again, that would be more of an IEP. A 504 plan diagnosis or disability is anything that substantially limits a major life activity or event within the educational institution.
So, let’s get into some examples.
First, let’s start with mental impairment. So this would be depression, anxiety, OCD, ODD, ADHD, and ADD. All of those things would be considered mental impairments. And again, that list could go on. Any diagnosis that a healthcare provider can give a child that substantially limits major life activities. Here is a useful resource on mental disorders from the National Institute of Mental Health that provides further insights.
The next step would be to understand how to get a 504 plan. It might involve a meeting with your child’s teachers, school counselor, and principal to discuss what accommodations your child may need.
So I’ve given you an example of the mental impairments, but let’s talk about examples of how that would substantially limit them within the classroom. This might be anxiety around taking exams or anxiety around giving oral presentations. Maybe the accommodations are that they are allowed to record their oral presentation at home or somewhere they feel comfortable and then play that for the class.
If they have anxiety around exams, maybe they’re allowed to take their exam in a quiet place outside the general education classroom, or are given extra time, or the exam is being read to them.
Also, staying on the anxiety, disability, or diagnosis: if the student suffers from panic attacks, common accommodation is that they are given, we could call it like a secret code or some cue so that the teacher would know that the child needs to self-regulate.
They could leave the classroom and go to a designated area, normally for a specific time, to self-regulate. If they’re having an anxiety attack, they need to go to the nurse’s office or office or seek out a different professional within the school setting.
Those are some examples of accommodations for mental impairment. Also, for things like ADD and ADHD, common accommodations are prompts or chunking the work. Teachers play a vital role in this, and knowing the 504 plan teacher responsibilities is important.
Chunking the work means that the teacher may chunk things together instead of handing the child a large worksheet that could overwhelm them, and they could have difficulty focusing on the task. So sometimes this looks like they like a circle a couple of questions at a time, and the child finishes that then checks in with the teacher, or they are given those questions a couple at a time, so they don’t even see the full extent of what needs to be accomplished. So those are some examples of mental impairments and also accommodations for them.
Then we can go into physical impairments. The important thing to remember about physical impairments and examples that I’m going to give you is sometimes, those are temporary. So if a child has some type of accident, they may potentially have a physical impairment that will substantially limit their abilities within the educational setting, but it might not be permanent. So they could receive therapy or rehabilitation, but that doesn’t matter. A 504 plan and accommodations can still be granted to that student if needed and they qualify.
Physical impairments, the best example I can give you is if someone is in a wheelchair. They would need clear access to go in and out of the classroom and move around. They may need a specific desk to sit in, or they need to sit in a specific area.
Transitional times. They may need additional time in the hallway transitioning between classes. If they have a locker, it may need to be modified in some way so they can access it. Or does the child or student need an aide to help them transition between classes?
Those are examples of physical impairments and how they would be handled. I gave the example of a child in a wheelchair, but perhaps the child just has difficulty walking. Maybe they need some type of aide to walk. So then, those accommodations would be modified to meet their needs.
Also, fine motor skills. This is another one. If a child potentially has difficulty with fine motor skills, like they can’t write things out, an accommodation would be that they could speak into some dictation software or they could use a keyboard or some other way to communicate their writing with the teacher as opposed to just pencil and paper.
The accommodation could be landed for exams as well. They could dictate to technology or an aide, who would then write those answers down for the teacher to grade. So those are all examples of physical impairments. So we’ve got examples of diagnosis and what their accommodations would look like.
I will give you some examples of poorly written accommodations and accommodations that I think are the best.
The best practice for writing accommodations is to make them extremely clear to anyone who would pick up that 504 plan and need to use it. What I mean by this is if a substitute teacher, other staff, or maybe specialist teachers are coming into the classroom, or the student is going out, can they implement those accommodations and know what they mean?
For example, if a child is given extended time on an exam, how much extended time? Is it double? Is it triple? Is it a specific time? So they’re just given an additional 20 minutes. It needs to be clearly written so that the educator, staff, or whoever would know how to implement that accommodation and it’s not disruptive to the child or anybody else in the classroom.
An example of a poorly written accommodation would be extended exam time. We don’t know how much time. Can the student actually spend all day on that exam? Can this time go over other subjects? Things like that. That’s a poorly written accommodation.
Another poorly written accommodation would be, let’s say, a child who has an anxiety disorder and feel a panic attack coming on. The accommodation would be written that the child would have to raise her hand and ask to be let out of the classroom to go to their special area. In my opinion, that’s a poorly written accommodation. The student must now disclose to everybody in the class that they have a disability. It disrupts the class and the student because now they will be worried about disclosing this to the whole class.
A best practice, or a superior accommodation, is that the student would cue in the teacher. So sometimes, this might mean a thumbs up. If the student gives a teacher a thumbs up and the teacher sees it, she gives the student a thumbs up back. So they’ve communicated without disrupting the class and without the student having to disclose their disability. The student gets up and walks out of the classroom.
Another would be some paper or note; I’ve seen some eraser, pencil, or something very specific that the student can walk up and hand to the teacher. The teacher then automatically knows that the child needs to leave the classroom to self-regulate. So those are some examples of poorly written accommodations and, in my opinion, superior and best practice accommodations.
Lastly, I’m giving some examples of where accommodations need to be included. Most of the time, we think of accommodations in general education classrooms. So with the teacher, exams, things like that. Yes, that’s important, but other examples of places would be transitions between the classrooms. So if the child has to go from one class to another, do they need prompting that the transition will happen? Do they need additional time? Do they need a specific locker, or do they need to walk with a peer or an aide? Also, in the specials like PE, music, and art. Do they need accommodations in those as well? Especially for people who have sensory processing disorders, music might be overwhelming, so maybe they need some accommodation.
I’ve seen headphones as an example if it’s too loud for them so that they can block out some of the noise so that they can process it better.
Physical education. If a child is in a wheelchair, they may be unable to do the same skills as other students. So it would need to be accommodated to meet their needs. Again, I say this in many of my blog posts: the forgotten area is the cafeteria. And I use sensory processing as well, but also students who have physical disabilities as well. Cafeterias are loud, smelly places. A lot of times, unfortunately, students only get 20 minutes for lunch, and that’s going through the line to get their food, sitting down, eating, and finishing, and it’s stressful for them.
And there are a lot of people moving around. If a child has sensory processing issues, this will overwhelm them and can lead to outbursts or behavioral issues. So accommodation may be that they can sit in a designated area with less stimulation or they’re allowed to eat in a different area completely, so they don’t have to stay in the cafeteria.
If the child has a physical impairment, they may be unable to walk through the line to get their food and sit back down at the table. So accommodations would need to be made. Or maybe they can do this, but it would take them longer; the accommodation would be that they received additional time or were allowed to eat lunch first. They leave for the cafeteria five or 10 minutes before the other students.
And then also going to and from school. Are they provided services on the bus?
Lastly, extracurricular activities. So if a child with a disability would like to be on a basketball team, cheerleading squad, debate team, or any extracurricular activity, do they need services in those areas as well?
The thing to remember in this blog is that I gave a lot of examples, but there are so many more because every child’s needs are unique. Every educational environment is unique, and every disability or impairment is unique to that student.
So the great thing about 504 plans is that the possibilities are endless, and educators, parents, and 504 plan teams can get creative when drafting these accommodations so that the child has a specific accommodation to meet their specific needs and can really succeed in an academic setting.
Jennifer Hanson is a dedicated and seasoned writer specializing in the field of special education. With a passion for advocating for the rights and needs of children with diverse learning abilities, Jennifer uses her pen to educate, inspire, and empower both educators and parents alike.