The best advice my mom and I ever received about my disability accommodations was that we should transition to a 504 plan right before graduating from high school. This way, I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I would receive accommodations in the future. We have shared this advice with everyone we know with an IEP. Here is why students should transition to a 504 plan after graduation, and how to convert an IEP to a 504 plan.
First, what is a 504 plan?
A 504 plan is a legal document that ensures people with disabilities or chronic illnesses are able to receive reasonable accommodations for their condition in the classroom or workplace. This can include the use of assistive technology, receiving breaks, accessible documents, and more. 504 plans also prohibit discrimination based on disability, and students with 504 plans are protected by the Office of Civil Rights within the United States Department of Education.
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What about my IEP?
Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, expire the moment a student graduates from high school. This is because they are created under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, also known as the IDEA. IDEA protects students until they graduate high school or turn 22, whichever comes first. Since 504 plans are developed under the Rehabilitation Act, there is no age minimum or maximum to receive services. The 504 plan can transition with the student to college and even the workplace.
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Why I requested a 504 plan
I learned about transitioning to a 504 plan early on in high school. The goal was that I would take the document with me to college and eventually the workplace.
Other reasons I requested a 504 plan include:
- It helps with creating a disability services file in college
- Get accommodations approved faster
- Use the listed accommodations for on and off campus jobs
- Have the accommodations for an internship
- It’s free to request one, and I wanted to have every service I could get
While my college did not require a 504 plan to be able to receive services, it helped tremendously with having an updated copy of accommodations. I also submitted my 504 Plan when I was going to take a class at another college.
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Why I didn’t have a 504 Plan before
Some people have told me that I was taking advantage of the system by switching my IEP to a 504 Plan, and that I should have had a 504 plan all along. At the time, I needed to have an IEP to access certain resources in my school district, including:
- Accessible copies of standardized tests
- A case manager that could assist with classroom issues
- Accessible and digital copies of textbooks
- Time with the Teacher of the Visually Impaired
At the time, students with 504 plans were not eligible to access these services, so that’s why I had an IEP.
Talk to the case manager in advance
I started talking to my case manager about transitioning to a 504 plan before graduation when I was still a junior in high school. However, students don’t need to request it as early as I did. I recommend talking to your case manager at the beginning of the second semester of senior year so they can help you prepare for the transition and get any necessary documentation in place. Do not walk up to them a week before school ends and ask for a 504 plan- give them a few months’ notice instead.
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Determine what accommodations are necessary
All of my IEP accommodations were transferred onto my 504 plan easily, and we didn’t find it necessary to add any accommodations. However, some students may benefit from adding additional accommodations. I strongly recommend researching accommodations in advance, and on websites that feature information about assistive technology and disability.
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Schedule the meeting to be the last day of school
The meeting for my 504 plan took place on the last day of school before graduation since I still had to take final exams. I walked out of the school with a 504 plan in my hand and then started to prepare for graduation.
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Some schools will refuse to convert an IEP to a 504 plan, saying the student doesn’t need it. This is not true, as I have used my 504 plan for college internships to show the accommodations that work best for me. Students and parents can receive free resources and legal help from their state’s Protection and Advocacy organization. For the state of Virginia, this is the Disability Law Center of Virginia. I wish I knew about this resource back in high school, as things would have been very different.
Bring a copy of the 504 plan to university
When setting up my disability services file, I brought a copy of my 504 plan with me. That way, we could add accommodations and also attach the document to my file. The 504 plan is not a substitute for a disability services file. Students still need to register their accommodations with their college or university. 504 plans are also accepted at community colleges and other post-secondary institutions.
My case manager, guidance counselor, and all of the special education staff worked hard to ensure that I had the best high school experience they could offer me. They were more than happy to help me set up a 504 plan so that I could succeed in the future. I am very thankful for their help and am glad that I had an opportunity to work with such a great team of staff members in high school. Every student should request a 504 plan before graduation so that they can go into the future with the peace of mind that their disability or chronic illness accommodations will not hinder them from being successful.