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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Beard

"Decoding Education Support: IEP's vs. 504 Plans - Unraveling the Differences"


IEPs v.s. 504 Plans

Two terms that often come up are IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and 504 Plans. Sometimes parents are presented with both options, but unsure which path is best to pursue. Both help students with disabilities, but they are not the same thing. An IEP is a detailed plan for children who need special education. It makes sure they get the help they need to learn in a way that suits them. A 504 Plan is more like a bridge. It helps students with disabilities access the general education curriculum. This way, they can learn without anything getting in the way.


An IEP is a plan designed for students with disabilities to receive specialized education. Qualification is through a comprehensive evaluation process. The IEP team, including parents/guardians and educators, collaborates to identify goals and services needed for student's progress. It includes specialized instruction, therapy, and assistive technology. IEPs are reviewed annually to assess progress and adjust the plan. IEPS in Florida also falls under the following categories. 

  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): This category encompasses a range of developmental disabilities that affect social interaction, communication, and behavior. 

  2. Intellectual Disabilities (ID): Formerly known as mental retardation, this category includes students with significant limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. 

  3. Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD): Students with specific learning disabilities have difficulties in one or more areas of academic achievement, such as reading, writing, or math. 

  4. Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities (EBD): This category includes students who exhibit persistent and severe emotional or behavioral challenges that interfere with their academic performance and social interactions. 

  5. Speech and Language Impairments (SLI): Students with speech and language impairments have difficulties in communication. 

  6. Orthopedic Impairments (OI): This category includes students with physical disabilities or impairments that affect their mobility or ability to access the school environment. 

  7. Other Health Impairments (OHI): This category includes students with chronic or acute health conditions that adversely affect their educational performance, such as asthma, epilepsy, or diabetes. 

  8. Visual Impairments (VI): Students with visual impairments have difficulties in vision that cannot be fully corrected with glasses or contact lenses. 

  9. Deaf or Hard of Hearing (DHH): This category includes students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  10. Dual Sensory Impairments (DSI): Students with dual sensory impairments have both visual and hearing. 

504 Plans:

A 504 Plan derives its name from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in programs receiving federal financial assistance. Unlike IEPs, which fall under IDEA, 504 Plans accommodate students with disabilities who may not require special education services but still need support to access the general education curriculum. Here's what sets 504 Plans apart:

  1. Broader Eligibility Criteria: To qualify for a 504 Plan, a student must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

  2. Accommodations and Modifications:  504 Plans primarily provide accommodations and modifications that enable students to participate fully in the general education environment. 

  3. Less Formalized Process: A 504 Plan is less formal than an IEP. Staff or parents can identify a student's need for accommodations, and relevant individuals can provide input to create the plan.

Both Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans aim to provide support to students with disabilities, but they operate under different legal frameworks and serve distinct purposes. If a child only requires modifications, then a 504 plan is likely sufficient. However, a child with an IEP requires instruction on how to manage their disability, and strategies can be taught to help them cope with it.

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