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The SETT Framework for AT Tool Selection

Assistive Technology

The SETT Framework for AT Tool Selection

Learn how to use the SETT framework to identify a struggling student’s learning needs and match that with the most appropriate assistive technology options. A case study is provided.

TechMatrix (opens in a new window) is a searchable database of assistive technology (AT) tools that includes hundreds of different AT products. With so many AT products on the market, where do parents, teachers, and users begin to find the right tool for them?

AT is a tool

It is important to first understand that when thinking of AT selection, one is looking at AT tools and not AT products. Often when thinking or talking about AT we talk about AT products. AT products are the programs that we buy, such as Kurzweil 3000, TextHelp, Read and Write, Nuance, Dragon, Naturally Speaking, WordQ and so on. These are AT produces that comprise of many different AT tools. MS Word is more than a box that you can type text into, it also has font tools, spell check, and almost another 1200 features (tools). The same applies to the number of tools (features) in a AT product. A student does not need to know how to use all the tools in one product, but they do need to know which tool is going to work for them and what products have that tool.

When selecting appropriate AT tools for students, there are many variables that must be considered. The SETT framework encourages teachers to examine ecological variables in a systematic way (Zabala, 2000). It is important to understand and gather data about the following:

  • Student — What are the students’ cognitive strengths and weaknesses?)
  • Environment(s) they work in — What are the instructional and physical arrangements?
  • Task(s) they have to accomplish — What are the curriculum objectives?
  • AT tools that would best suit their needs — Is a system of AT tools and strategies required for a student with these needs and abilities to do these tasks in these environments?


When gathering data in order to better understand the individual student’s needs, it is important to ask questions about the student’s individual strengths and weaknesses in cognitive ability, academic skills, and social and emotional issues. It is also important to understand what interventions have been tried in the past and what aspects of those interventions worked and which did not work.

Teachers should review student records, including psychoeducational reports, the student’s IEP, and report cards to develop a list of the student’s strengths and weaknesses in the areas of cognitive abilities and academic skills. Some key cognitive abilities are attention, working memory, long-term memory, language processing, and visual-motor integration. Cognitive abilities influence the development of academic skills. Academic skills are all the skills a student needs to develop to be a “good” student. Some of these are the ability to decode and read words, vocabulary knowledge, comprehension strategies, spelling, and organization.


When considering the environment teachers should first create a list of all the environments in which the student does their work (e.g., classroom, library, hall, coffee shop, home). They should next consider the following questions:

  • What are the other instructional and physical arrangements?
  • Are there any special concerns?
  • What materials and equipment are currently available in the environment?
  • What supports are available to the student and the people working with the student on a daily basis?
  • How are the attitudes and expectations of the people in the environment likely to affect the student’s performance?
  • Does the student have internet access in all of these environments? How reliable is the Internet connection and speed?


Based on the student’s learning profile and the environments in which they will be doing their work, it is next important to consider the elements of the task they are being asked to complete. Ketterlin-Geller and Crawford (2011) suggested that it is helpful to break down an academic task or test into the demands it presents. For example, a math problem may have the following demands: read the math problem, understand the words in the math problem, be able to retrieve from memory the steps to the math problem, understand the concept being taught by the math problem, understand what the results mean, and be able to communicate understanding. Then teachers can begin to understand what skills or knowledge are being tested and which demands need to be support with AT tools.


Only after understanding the student, environment, and task should teachers consider what AT tools are most appropriate to support their student’s needs. Teachers should consider what no-tech, low-tech, and high-tech options are available and should be considered for a student with these needs and abilities doing these tasks in these environments, as well as what strategies might be used to increase student performance.

It can be helpful to use a table like the following:

Academic Skill AT Tool AT Product Environmental Considerations

Case study: putting the SETT framework into practice

Theo is an 11-year-old male in grade 6. He was born in an urban center where English is the only language spoken at home. In Grade 2, Theo was diagnosed with ADHD–Combined Type and a Reading Disability. His reading is currently 2.4 grades below grade level on word reading, and his IEP specifies that he has trouble decoding, but he has good vocabulary and comprehension when he is able to read.

During language arts programs he becomes very disruptive. He does not complete seat work.

You would like Theo to read a 5 page article about ancient civilizations for a class discussion that will occur in 15 minutes. You notice Theo at his desk daydreaming, yet he does begin to read the article. As Theos teacher, what AT tools could you provide in order to help him complete this academic task?


First, you should review Theo’s student records, including his IEP. His IEP indicates that he has trouble with the academic skill of decoding and the cognitive skill of attention. He does, however, have strengths in vocabulary and understanding what he has read (when he is able to decode). 


Theo is completing his work in a classroom environment. He is currently seated right beside the window at the back of the classroom, but there is a free seat closer to your desk where you can more closely monitor his attention and progress through the task. Your desk is also much closer to electrical outlets in case you are considering providing him with a computer to help him with his work.


This task requires Theo to decode and comprehend a 5 page article. He also needs to organize his ideas so that he can discuss them with the class, and pay attention to what he is reading. The task that will be most difficult for Theo is decoding the article. Without AT, it would take him a long time to decode the article, which would also strain his attention and ability to stay on task.

Demands of the task What are the skills being taught or tested? What skills are needed to show knowledge of skill being taught or tested? What skill needs to be supported
Read the article   Decoding Needs support
Understand the words in the article   Vocabulary  
Understand the core concepts of the article Reading comprehension: background knowledge, making connections, main idea, and details    
Discuss the article as a class Oral language    

After completing the chart, you can see that the only academic skill Theo needs support with is decoding.


After carefully considering the AT tools that would be beneficial and finding products that include that AT tool on the TechMatrix website, you complete the following chart for Theo. You may also want to consider the cost of the AT product that you are selecting, especially if the student only requires one tool to work around their academic skill deficit.

Academic Skill AT Tool AT Product Environmental Considerations
Decoding Text-to-speech Natural Reader Computer with access to electricity

Note: Many students will have academic skill deficits on a number of areas of the task that you are assigning, so you will need to carefully consider how to accommodate for their complex needs as you complete the SETT Framework.