A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n Report on the Section 504 Self-Evaluation - May 1996

Chapter I

Department of Education: History and Mission

The Department of Education is the Cabinet-level department that establishes policy for, administers, and coordinates most Federal assistance to education.

The Department of Education was created by the Department of Education Organization Act (20 U.S.C. 3411) with the first Secretary of Education, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, sworn in on December 6, 1979. The Department itself was formally established on May 4, 1980.

The Department's major functions and many of its Principal Offices originated in the Education Division of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (DHEW), including the Office of Education and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Education. The Assistant Secretary's Office included the National Institute for Education and the National Center for Education Statistics. The Department also absorbed several statutory offices from other parts of DHEW including the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the National Institute for Handicapped Research (now the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research), and the education-related functions of DHEW's Office for Civil Rights.

The Department's mission is "to ensure equal access to Education and to promote Educational Excellence throughout the nation." Among its numerous authorized activities, the Department has four major responsibilities: (1) to establish policies relating to federal financial aid for education, to administer distribution of those funds, and to monitor their use; (2) to collect data and oversee research on America's schools and to disseminate this information to educators and the general public; (3) to identify major issues and problems in education and to focus national attention on them; and (4) to enforce federal statutes prohibiting discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal funds and to ensure equal access to education for every individual.

The Department is composed of and conducts its business through a system of functional Principal Offices. The Principal Offices of the Department are the following:

The Secretary of Education

The Deputy Secretary of Education

The Under Secretary of Education

The Office of Management

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer

The Office of General Counsel

The Office of the Inspector General

The Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs

The Office of Intergovernmental and Interagency Affairs

The Office for Civil Rights

The Office of Educational Research and Improvement

The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

The Office of Postsecondary Education

The Office of Vocational and Adult Education

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

The Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs

The Department, which currently has approximately 5,000 employees, has its main office in Washington, D.C. and ten Regional Offices in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle. A regional representative of the Secretary in each region helps communicate Department policies and priorities to the general public, state and local officials, colleges and universities, education organizations, and key education leaders. The regional representatives also conduct Department activities in the Region, including a variety of education studies and surveys of their regions for the Department.

Section 504: Self-Evaluation Process

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 794, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federally assisted programs and activities, was amended in 1978 to extend its coverage to programs and activities conducted by Federal Executive agencies. The Department of Education's regulations implementing Section 504 for its programs and activities were codified and published in the Federal Register on September 7, 1990 as 34 CFR Part 105 entitled Enforcement of Nondiscrimination on Basis of Handicap in Programs or Activities Conducted by the Department of Education (Appendix A).1 The regulations define an individual with a disability as "any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment." (34 CFR §105.3) Section 105.10 of the regulations requires the Department to evaluate its current policies and practices for compliance with Section 504, and to the extent modification of any of these policies and practices is required, to proceed to make the required modifications. Additionally, Section 105.32(d) prescribes that, in the event that structural changes are necessary to make the Department's programs and activities, viewed in their entirety, accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities, the Department shall develop a plan setting forth the steps necessary to complete these changes.

In October 1993, Secretary of Education, Richard Riley created the Secretary's Work Group on the Recruitment, Advancement, and Access for People with Disabilities, referred to as the Disability Work Group. The Disability Work Group was co-chaired by Assistant Secretary Judith E. Heumann, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) and Assistant Secretary Rod McCowan, Office of Management (OM), and included representation from each Principal Office. The Disability Work Group recommended that the Department reconduct the Section 504 Self-Evaluation study that was begun in 1992 by the Department's Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) group, except for the Regional Offices physical accessibility survey. It was intended that specific attention in the development of the survey instrument and protocol be directed to:

  1. focusing the self-evaluation process on programs, policies and practices;

  2. focusing the Facilities Survey component on the identification of all physical barriers in facilities;

  3. requiring Principal Offices to develop accompanying implementation plans for the removal of any impediments that are identified; and

  4. defining strategies to assure that auxiliary aids and services, such as documents in alternative formats or interpreter services, are available, that reasonable accommodations are provided to employees, and that all programs and activities of the Department are made accessible to employees and members of the public.
In May 1995, the Executive Management Committee of the Department of Education gave its approval of and support for the Department and its Principal Offices to conduct the self-evaluation recommended by the Disability Work Group and to produce a transition plan, if required. As a result, a Section 504 Self-Evaluation subcommittee was formed from the Disability Work Group. The subcommittee adapted an existing survey form on accessibility and reasonable accommodations, making it Department specific and conforming it to Department statutes and regulations. This form was approved for use by the Department's Office of the General Counsel.

On July 10, 1995, a meeting was called by Judith Heumann, Assistant Secretary, OSERS, and Rod McCowan, Assistant Secretary, OM, of all Principal Office Executive Officers or their designees. At this meeting, the self-evaluation forms were distributed, explained and discussed and a due date was set for their completion and return. The subcommittee and staff made itself available to the Principal Offices in completing the forms and was in regular contact with them. All self-evaluations were submitted by December 12, 1995. (The completed Protocols are available in Volume II of this report.) The Section 504 subcommittee then analyzed the responses and compiled the Department's Section 504 Self-Evaluation Report.

The Section 504 subcommittee analyzed the protocol submitted by each Principal Office and contacted individuals in certain Offices to clarify responses. While in this Report the Department seeks to convey the status of the accessibility of its programs and activities to individuals with disabilities as accurately as possible, it recognizes the inherent limitations of the self-reporting mechanism used. It was also evident from the interaction between the Section 504 subcommittee and the Principal Offices in completing this self-evaluation that although a Principal Office did not identify certain auxiliary aids or services as being currently available, that Office would be willing to procure the aid or service if requested or to work to determine other adequate means of making the program or activity accessible to individuals with disabilities. Finally, this Section 504 self-evaluation was undertaken for a two-fold purpose: 1) to determine the current level of accessibility for persons with disabilities to Department programs and activities; and 2) to provide an educational basis for further change within the Department so that the Department will not only be in full compliance with Section 504, but will also pursue a proactive approach to making all Department programs and activities fully and readily accessible to all individuals with disabilities.

Pursuant to the Department's regulations at 34 CFR §105.10(b), the Department provided an opportunity to interested persons, including individuals with disabilities and organizations representing individuals with disabilities to participate in the self-evaluation process by submitting comments (both oral and written). The Department published in the Federal Register on April 8, 1996, a notice that the draft Section 504 Self-Evaluation Report was available for review and made the report widely available on the Internet. (See 61 Fed. Reg. 15472 (1996).) The Department also solicited comments from several organizations representing individuals with disabilities. A summary of the comments received by the Department and the Department's responses are contained in Appendix F of this Report.

Section 504: Employment Practices

Although the Department's employment program is subject to Section 504 pursuant to 34 CFR Section 105.30, the Department has not included a detailed review of its employment practices as part of this report. In connection with its employment practices, the Department is subject to the requirements and procedures of Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (42 U.S.C. 791). In accordance with Section 501, the Department makes all employment decisions, including hiring, advancement, and termination, without regard to disability, and, in fact, makes efforts to hire and advance qualified individuals with disabilities. The Department follows the detailed regulations of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) implementing Section 501 at 29 CFR Part 1614. The Principal Office self-evaluations did address, however, issues of physical, communication, and program access as they relate to employees of the Department.

Section 504: Complaint Procedures

Any member of the public or Department employee has the right to file a complaint against the Department alleging that the Department has violated Section 504 in conducting its programs or activities. The Department will accept and investigate all complete complaints for which it has jurisdiction. All complete complaints must be filed within 180 days of the alleged violation of Section 504.

If an employee of the Department wishes to file a complaint alleging that the Department violated Section 504 by discriminating against the employee on the basis of disability in connection with his or her conditions of employment, the employee would file a complaint with the Department's Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Group. EEO will process the complaint pursuant to the procedures established by the EEOC at 29 CFR Part 1614 and the Department's internal EEO procedures. (See 34 CFR §105.41(b).)

Any member of the public or any Department employee who wants to file a complaint against the Department alleging a violation under Section 504, other than a complaint regarding an employee's individual conditions of employment, should file a complaint with the Department's Office of Management. The Office of Management is responsible for coordinating the implementation of Section 504 and resolving complaints claiming that the Department's programs or activities are not accessible to persons with disabilities. (See 34 CFR §105.41(c).) The Department will notify the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board of any complaint alleging that any Department building or facility that is subject to the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, as amended, is not readily accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities. (See 34 CFR §105.41(f).)

The Department is committed to providing equal access to the Department's programs and activities for persons with disabilities and will work to resolve individuals' complaints regarding the Department's compliance with Section 504. To further that end, this Report recommends that the Department establish a Section 504 Coordinator in the Office of Management to work with individuals on a more informal basis to resolve Section 504 compliance issues.

1 Although Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was amended to substitute the term "disability" for "handicap," the Department of Education's regulations implementing Section 504 have not yet been so amended. Because, however, disability is recognized as the commonly preferred term, it will be used throughout this Report.
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