Assistive Technology Corner

How to Approach AT Considerations

Mary Ann Abbott, S.L.P.D.
How many times have you found yourself telling a colleague "I have this kid who..."? Fill in the blank with the disability area or academic problem of your choice. This on-going column will focus on assistive technology (AT) from consideration and evaluation through purchase of the recommended equipment. This month's edition will concentrate on how to approach AT considerations.

All students with IEPs must receive consideration for AT. But which students need assistive technology? What kind of technology is needed? Who is involved in making these decisions? What sort of data should be gathered to aid in the decision-making process? Consideration for AT is not matching the student to the equipment, it is a process of determining what features are needed by the student based on the question: .What does the student need to do that he/she is unable to do because of his/her disability?. AT solutions should be designed to remove the barriers that prevent students from effectively and independently participating within their curriculum. Documentation is needed to answer the following questions:
  • Does the student have functional access to the curriculum?
  • Is the student able to see, hear, manipulate, and respond to materials within the curriculum?
  • Is the student able to physically access the school environment?
  • Is the student able to keep up with assignments in the classroom?
  • What accommodations and modifications have been attempted, and what are the results?
There are a wealth of web sites that contain information about the AT assessment process. The Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative has free downloadable articles and guidelines in English and Spanish ( freematerials.html). Another great source for information, including a PowerPoint and video, is the Georgia Project for Assistive Technology (

Now that you have all of this information about your student, what do you do with it? My favorite tool is the SETT Framework. SETT is an acronym for Student, Environments, Tasks, and Tools. The SETT Framework is a tool that helps teams gather and organize information that can be used to guide collaborative decisions about services that foster the educational success of students with disabilities. The SETT Framework is built on the premise that in order to develop an appropriate system of assistive technology devices and services, teams must first gather information about the student, the customary environments in which the student spends his/her time, and the tasks that are required for the student to be an active participant in the teaching/learning processes that lead to educational success. The SETT Framework as well as other pertinent forms and guidelines may be found on the SETT homepage at and the SETT FRamework page at NCIP/workshops/sett/SETT_Framework.html.

The SETT Framework organizes student information under the following headings:

The Student
  • What is (are) the functional area(s) of concern? What does the student need to be able to do that is difficult or impossible to do independently at this time?
  • Special needs (related to area of concern)
  • Current abilities (related to area of concern)
  • Expectations and concerns
  • Interests and preferences
The Environments
  • Arrangement (instructional, physical)
  • Support (available to both the student and the staff)
  • Materials and Equipment (commonly used by others in the environments)
  • Access Issues (technological, physical, instructional)
  • Attitudes and Expectations (staff, family, others)
The Tasks
  • What SPECIFIC tasks occur in the student's natural environments that enable progress toward mastery of IEP goals and objectives?
  • What SPECIFIC tasks are required for active involvement in identified environments? (related to communication, instruction, participation, productivity, environmental control)
The Tools In the SETT Framework, Tools include devices, services, strategies, training, accommodations, and modifications - everything that is needed to help the student succeed. Some parts of the Tool system address the specific needs of the student, while parts of the Tool system may more specifically address issues in the Environments, such as access to the classroom, accessibility of instructional materials, and support for staff. The SETT may be used to help the team develop and sustain learning environments that are inviting, challenging, and productive for ALL students, including those with the full range of abilities and special needs.

The information gathered on the Student, the Environments, and the Tasks should be analyzed to address the following questions and activities.
  • Is it expected that the student will not be able to make reasonable progress toward educational goals without assistive technology devices and services?
  • If yes, describe what a useful system of supports, devices, and services for the student would be like if there were such a system of Tools.
  • Brainstorm specific Tools that could be included in a system that addresses student needs.
  • Select the most promising Tools for trials in the natural environments.
  • Plan the specifics of the trial (expected changes, when/how tools will be used, cues, etc.)
  • Collect data on effectiveness.
It is expected that the SETT Framework will be useful during all phases of assistive technology service delivery. With that in mind, it is important to revisit the SETT Framework information periodically to determine if the information that is guiding decision-making and implementation is accurate, up to date, and clearly reflects the shared knowledge of all involved. The SETT Framework supports a thorough yet simple approach to assistive technology assessment and intervention. When data is gathered and organized with simplicity, a team's ability to effectively generate a range of Tools that can be used to support student achievement is greatly enhanced.

Gaps in academic performance may manifest in the classroom as difficulty communicating and/or performing reading, writing, or computing tasks. We will explore low/no-tech through high-tech solutions in the coming articles. In the meantime, check out the .What.s New. section of the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative ( The following links may be of interest: Writing Measurable IEP Goals and Objectives, Aligning IEPs to Academic Standards, Implementing Ongoing Transition Plans for the IEP, Using AT to Meet Literacy Standards - Grades K-3, Using AT to Meet Literacy Standards - Grades 4-6, and The IEP Team and AT Decisions Video.

Mary Ann Abbott is an Assistive Technology Specialist in the Los Angeles Unified School District and a Lecturer for the Department of Communication Disorders at California State University, Los Angeles. She is Vice-President of CAPHI.

This article is from the CAPHI Newsletter, Winter 2006.