Breaking Down IEP and 504 Plans

In the small world of audiology, educational audiology is an even smaller subset of inspiring professionals working hard to ensure that the children who are served in clinic are receiving the recommended supports in school.  Educational audiologists do a variety of things, from providing education to teachers on devices, screening children for hearing loss, and programming and providing FM systems, to helping decide what accommodations each child needs in school and ensuring that these are provided.  Accommodations are provided through either a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Plan.  So what’s the difference between these plans and what do audiologists need to know to provide appropriate accommodations?

  • Differences in 504 and IEP plans
    • 504 plans only provide accommodations. They are utilized for children who have hearing loss but are performing well and have no other educational needs. They can provide for accommodations such as: wearing hearing aids in school, use of FM systems, and preferred seating.
    • IEP plans provide accommodations as well as specially designed instruction. They are utilized for children who have hearing loss and need more help. They can provide the same accommodations as a 504 plan, but have the ability to go beyond. IEP plans can include goals on language acquisition, speech production, mobility (if appropriate) and much more (1). In order to qualify for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a child must meet the two prongs of eligibility: 1) the child must have a diagnosed condition recognized under IDEA and 2) the child must show educational need for specialized instruction for that disability.
  • Important IEP Factors
    • Communication needs as well as the child and family’s preferred mode of communication. This can dictate what services the child receives (interpreter or transliterator) or the most appropriate setting for the child (class with normal hearing peers or class with other children with the same communication modality).
    • Linguistic needs. Does the child need a language facilitator to ensure that they are not missing spoken language in the classroom? Do they need speech and language therapy to improve communication?
    • Severity of hearing loss and the potential for using residual hearing. This can help to determine appropriate amplification and assistive devices. Children with less residual hearing may need more assistive devices (FM, captioning, note takers etc.) in order to be successful in the classroom.
    • Academic level. Is the child functioning on their expected grade level or do they need additional support services to achieve this? This factor is essential to the implementation of other services in the IEP.
    • Social, emotional, and cultural needs including opportunities for peer interactions and communication. These factors are easily overlooked but essential in consideration of the IEP. Without the ability to interact with children with hearing loss, these children may feel isolated and like no one understands them. Ensuring some interaction with peers with hearing loss may help their self-esteem and confidence grow (2).
  • What does the case law say?
    • Outside services are not always covered. If the child has access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the school system, then the school has no obligation to pay for outside services (including but not limited to; speech therapy, private school, etc.)
    • Professionals providing services must be qualified to serve individuals with that specific disability. If there are no professionals qualified in that district, they must be found and the school must provide them or pay for them.
    • Interpreters can be used in religious schools. Although there has been a question of the issue of separation of church and state, the Zobrest case (1993) ruled that under IDEA the government distributes services to children neutrally as long as they qualify under IDEA. Therefore, if a child qualifies for an IEP or 504 plan, they are entitled to the services indicated, regardless of the religion of the school they attend (3).

IEPs and 504 plans are complex in nature and necessitate study and time to fully understand their implications. This post should serve as a primer and brief overview, but should not be confused with an in-depth evaluation of 504 and IEP plans. These plans are essential to ensuring that children with disabilities are receiving the most appropriate services in order for them to succeed.


  • Planning and Preparing Quality Individualized Education Programs (Section 1, p.6) 1996b, Colorado Department of Education, Denver.
  • S. Department of Education. (1992, October 26). Deaf Students Education Services. Retrieved August 9, 2018, from
  • Kreisman, B. M., & John, A. B. (2010). A Case Law Review of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for Children with Hearing Loss or Auditory Processing Disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology,21(7), 426-440. doi:10.3766/jaaa.21.7.2


Stephanie Noble is a current third-year audiology student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She serves as the SAA State Ambassador to North Carolina, the Liaison from UNC to the North Carolina Audiology Association, and the Vice President of Merchandising for UNC-SAA.  Her interests include pediatric audiology, educational audiology as well as legislation and advocacy. 



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