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, so 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, and today I will be sharing it with my readers. 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 but is not limited to using assistive technology, receiving breaks, or accessible documents. 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.
What about my IEP?
Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, expire the moment a student graduates from high school, 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, meaning the 504 plan can transition with the student to college and even the workplace.
Why I requested a 504 plan
I learned about transitioning to a 504 plan early on in high school, and taking the document with me to college and eventually the workplace. The 504 plan was helpful when creating my disability services file (more on that later) and helped me get the file set up more quickly. 504 plans are also great for taking to internships where accommodations may be needed, as well as for jobs both on and off campus. Since it's free to get a 504 plan, I wanted to have every resource I could possibly need. This is am important part of self-advocacy- read more about that here.
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, because I didn't want them to forget about it. 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 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.
Determine what accommodations are needed
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. Check out my favorite US government resources for researching accommodation and assistive technology on this post here.
Schedule the meeting to be the last day of school
In order to avoid interruption with receiving my accommodations, the meeting for my 504 plan was set for the last day of school, two hours before graduation. This ended up working out extremely well, since I unexpectedly had to take a final exam for a class (long story) and worked a lot with staff at my school in those final days. I walked out of the school with a 504 plan in my hand and then raced home to change for graduation- read more about attending high school graduation with low vision here.
If the school is refusing to provide a student with a 504 plan before graduating or if there are any other issues, students and parents are entitled to free resources from their state's Protection and Advocacy organization. For the state of Virginia, this is the Disability Law Center of Virginia- read my post about them here. 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 so that we could add accommodations and also attach the document to my file. The 504 plan is not a substitute for a disability services file, as students still need to register their accommodations with their college or university. 504 plans can also be accepted in community colleges and other post-secondary institutions. Learn more about creating a disability services file here.
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, and 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.