The SETT Framework
(Joy Smiley Zabala, M.Ed; email:

Students’ needs and abilities, and the features of devices should be well matched. Tools are frequently selected with insufficient up-front attention to the environment(s) in which the tools are expected to be used, and to the tasks in which the student is expected to participate within the identified environment(s). It is difficult to choose appropriate tools if there is not a clear awareness of where and how they are to be used.

To make effective assistive technology decisions, the team must determine who should be involved in
the decision-making process and what information should be included? The SETT Framework examines information about the Student, the Environment, the Tasks, and the Tools. The framework promotes student independence and active participation in activities in the environment, as well as, the system of tools needed for the student to address the tasks.

It is important to realize that this outline of questions to consider in each area of the SETT Framework has been developed only as a guideline and a place to start. Teams gathering and acting upon this data may wish to seek answers to numerous additional questions. In virtually every case, however, any questions, which arise, will relate to one of the areas of the SETT Framework.

• What does the Student need to do?
• What are the Student's special needs?
• What are the Student's current abilities?

• What materials and equipment are currently available in the environment?
• What is the physical arrangement? Are there special concerns?
• What is the instructional arrangement? Are there likely to be changes?
• What supports are available to the student?
• What resources are available to the people supporting the student?

The TASKS (Be as specific as possible)
• What naturally occurring activities take place in the environment?
• What is everyone else doing?
• What activities support the student’s curricular goals?
• What are the critical elements of the activities?
• How might the activities be modified to accommodate the student’s special needs
• How might technology support the student’s active participation in those activities?

• What no tech, low tech, mid tech and high tech options should be considered when developing a system
for a student with these needs and abilities doing these tasks in these environments?
• What strategies might be used to invite increased student performance?
• How might these tools be tried out with the student in the customary environments in which they will be used?

Using SETT appropriately requires collaboration and promotes team-building by using clearly understood language and valuing input from all perspectives. As data is organized and prioritized within the SETT Framework, it promotes logical thinking by all team members and can be an effective consensus-building tool. As environments and tasks are explored, the links between assessment and intervention become strong and clear, as does the need to develop a system of tools which will enhance the student’s abilities to address the tasks in which he/she is expected to build competency. In addition to developing a system of tools valuable to the student, participation in developing the SETT increases the likelihood that the people supporting the student will see the relevancy of the technology and will be more active and persistent in encouraging and supporting the student’s achievement through its use.

Using the SETT Framework as a guide, it is possible, from the start, to address and overcome many of the obstacles which lead to marginal student inclusion and device abandonment. When the Student, the Environment and the Tasks are fully explored and considered, laments like “Well, the device is here, now what do I do with it?” or “He has it, but he won’t use it!” should seldom be heard. Instead, students, parents, and professionals should all rejoice at the increased opportunities for success which come with assistive technology which is well matched to the student’s needs and abilities to perform the natural tasks which are part of living and learning in this world.


Calculator, S. & Jorgenson, C. M. (1991). Integrating AAC instruction into regular education settings: Expounding on best practices. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 7, 204-214.

Karlan, George. Environmental Communication Teaching Training. Field-Initiated Research Grant Award No. H023C9005 from the Office of Special Education, U.S. Department of Education. Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University

National Council on Disability. Study on the Financing of Assistive Technology Devices and Services for Individuals with Disabilities. A Report to the President and Congress of the United States. Washington, D.C. 1993.