SETT – A Framework for Making Informed Decisions About Inclusive Technologies

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Technology is a tool that serves a set of education goals, and if we don’t think about what we want the technology for first, we end up with technology driven solutions that have very little impact on the lives of children and in our educational system

Linda Roberts, U. S. Department of Education


The last 10 years have seen a dramatic increase in the growth and development of inclusive technology tools (the term ‘inclusive technology’ is often used interchangeably with ‘assistive technology’ – see for a more detailed discussion). In 2003, for example, there were an estimated 25,000 inclusive technology products available (Edyburn 2005). This figure continues to increase as new technologies are released each year.

As Individual Education Plan (IEP) teams meet to consider inclusive technology options, team members are faced with either an overwhelming array of choices or face the assistive technology paradox, “How do I know what is available if I don’t know what is available?” (

The SETT Framework helps us address these issues by providing a framework to discuss and analyse a student’s’ abilities and identify specific targeted areas where the student requires additional support in the form of inclusive technologies to participate.

SETT Framework

The SETT Framework, developed by Joy Zabala (2005), is an organisational instrument to help collaborative teams create student-centred, environmentally useful, and tasks-focused tool systems that foster the educational success of students with disabilities.

SETT is an acronym for Student, Environment, Task and Tools. Key questions are asked in each area to in order to guide teams in gathering data and information to support the consideration and implementation of appropriate inclusive technologies. These questions provide a framework and not a protocol, as they guide the discussion and provide a vehicle for the team to collaborate and form a consensus on ‘where to from here’.

STUDENT – Examples of guiding questions concerning inclusive technologies:

  • What are the student’s current abilities?
  • What are the student’s special needs?
  • What are the functional areas of concern?
  • What are the other students doing that this student needs to be able to do?
  • What does the student need to be able to do that is difficult or impossible to accomplish independently at this time?

A useful resource to support these questions from a student point of view is Bowser, G., & Reed, P. (2001). Hey Can I Try That? A Student Handbook for Choosing and Using Assistive Technology. This is available from

ENVIRONMENTS – Examples of guiding questions concerning inclusive technologies:

  • What activities take place in the environment?
  • Where will the student participate—classroom, home, community, therapy?
  • What is the physical arrangement?
  • What activities do other students do that this student cannot currently participate in?
  • What assistive technology does the student have access to or currently use?

TASKS – Examples of guiding questions concerning inclusive technologies:

  • What specific tasks occur in the environment?
  • What activities is the student expected to do?
  • What does success look like?

TOOLS – Examples of guiding questions concerning inclusive technologies:

Tools are devices and services—anything that is needed to help the student participate and access learning programs.

  • Are the tools being considered on a continuum from no/low to high-tech?
  • Are the tools student centred and task oriented and reflect the student’s current needs?
  • Are tools being considered because of their features that are needed rather than brand names?
  • What is the cognitive load required by the student to use the tool?
  • What are the training requirements for the student, family and staff?

Having utilised the SETT Framework to identify an inclusive technology solution the collaborative team needs to consider a number of factors. Does this tool address the tasks the student is experiencing difficulty with? Does it reinforce least restrictive options? Is it simple to use and acquire? Will student, family, and peers accept it? Will the student require a range of strategies for an individual task? Were no/low-tech options also considered?

Finally, a trial and evaluation of the inclusive technology selected is undertaken.


The SETT Framework is not a one off event but an ongoing framework for collaborative teams to gather information and ensure that the most appropriate inclusive technology tools are being utilised by the student. As a result there needs to be ongoing Re-SETTing, where teams need to return to the SETT questions on a regular basis. The IEP meeting is the natural meeting venue for this to occur. Re-SETTing is a matter of keeping decision-guiding information accurate, up to date, and clearly inclusive of the shared knowledge of all those involved (Zabala, 2002).

The SETT Framework has been adopted at a local, state and national level around the world. In New Zealand, the Ministry of Education has embedded the SETT Framework into its national Assistive Technology Guidelines. These can be found at The Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI), a statewide initiative in the United States, has produced a document entitled Assessing Students’ Needs for Assistive Technology (ASNAT) 5th Edition which utilises the SETT format for group decision‐making. This can be found at .


The SETT Framework is an essential guide to ensuring informed decisions are made when considering and implementing inclusive technologies for students in schools. The framework of questions is intended to catch all the ideas and possible solutions provided by a collaborative team. The framework promotes a process that is student centred, flexible, allows for shared knowledge and collaboration, incorporates multiple perspectives and is ongoing. Getting SETT is just the beginning!

Resources and Web links


Edyburn, D. (2005). Special education technology competencies. Special Education Technology Practice, 7(1), 16-27.

Edyburn, D. L. (2008). Assistive Technology Consideration. Special Education Technology Practice, 10, 1, 16-18.

Marino, M. T., Marino, E. C., & Shaw, S. F. (2006). Making informed assistive technology decisions for students with high incidence disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 38(6), 18-25.

Peterson-Karlan, G. R. (2003). An administrative consideration of the AT “Consideration” mandate. Paper presented at the Fifth Annual Fall Conference of the Illinois Alliance of Administrators of Special Education, Tinley Park, IL. Available from

Wissick, C. A., & Gardner, J. E. (2008). Conducting Assessments in Technology Needs: From Assessment to Implementation. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 33(2), 78-93.

Zabala, J. S. (2000). Setting the stage for success: Building success through effective selection and use of assistive technology systems. Retrieved 12/6/06 from

Zabala, J. S. (2002). A Brief Introduction to the SETT Framework. Retrieved from

Zabala, J. S. (2005). Ready, SETT, go! Getting started with the SETT framework. Closing the Gap, 23(6).

Zabala, J. S. (2005). Using the SETT Framework to Level the Learning Field for Students with Disabilities. Retrieved 26/02/08, from

Watts, E.H., O’Brian, M., & Wojcik, B.W., (2004) Four models of assistive technology consideration: How do they compare to recommended educational assessment practices? Journal of Special Education Technology, 19, 1. Retrieved 9/7/07 from:

This overview of the SETT Framework has been published in the Term 4 2009 edition of the SERU Update, a newsletter which supports the education of children and students with disabilities and learning difficulties published by the Special Education Resource Unit (SERU), a South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services (DECS) support centre. For a copy of the update go to

For more information contact Greg O’Connor,

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About Greg O'Connor

Greg has been actively involved in supporting the learning of people with diverse learning needs for over 30 years. During this time he has worked as a classroom teacher, school executive, district consultant and regional manager with the New South Wales Department of Education and Training, Australia. Greg’s areas of interest and expertise include supporting people with complex needs, challenging behaviours and autism, and literacy support technologies for people with diverse learning needs. He is passionately committed to the use of inclusive and instructional technologies to support the learning of ALL students in school and post school settings. Greg presents at national and international conferences, provides training and consultancy across Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia, is currently a committee member of NSW Australian Association of Special Education, and is the Professional and Consultancy Services Manager at Spectronics.

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