How the SETT Framework Works

Dr. Joy Zabala is the Director of Technical Assistance for CAST and for the National Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Center. Dr. Zabala was a general and special educator and is a pioneer in assistive technology and accessible instructional materials. In the 1980s—after many years as a distinguished general educator in schools in Georgia, Florida, and Caracas, Venezuela—she began exploring ways to use technology to extend learning opportunities to all students, including those with disabilities. As a technologist, special educator, and teacher trainer, Dr. Zabala has earned international recognition for her work and is a presenter of training for educators and families.

This is her first appearance on the Tech Matters Blog.

How does the SETT Framework work?

In the incredibly technology-rich 21st century, it can be a daunting challenge deciding which of the available technology tools could assist a person with disabilities to do what he/she needs or wants to do where and when he/she needs or want to do it! Many families, educators, service providers, and others have found the SETT Framework helpful when addressing this challenge.

SETT is an acronym for Student, Environments, Tasks and Tools. The SETT Framework helps the key players to identify concerns and consider the tools (technology, strategies, training, etc.) that lower barriers to the achievement of educational, vocational and personal goals.

A key element of the SETT Framework is developing a shared understanding—before trying to choose or use a tool—of:

  • Who (i.e., Student/Self­)will be using tools
  • Where (i.e.,  Environments) they will be used–
  • What (Tasks) they will be used for––­

Just because something is a terrific tool, does not mean that it will actually be useful.  

By exploring the Student, Environments, and Tasks from the start before selecting and using Tools, (both devices and services) it is possible to overcome many of the obstacles that lead to marginal or unilateral participation, general dissatisfaction, and device abandonment. When everyone’s voice and point of view contributes to the description of the Student/Self, the Environments and the Tasks, the laments can be avoided:

  • “Well, the device is here, now what do I do with it?”
  • “He has it, but he won’t use it!”  
  • “They just told us what to do!” should seldom be heard.

Instead, individuals with disabilities, families and professionals will be ready to take full advantage of the technology systems and services that are well matched to the student’s needs and abilities. The student can access the needed support to perform the natural tasks which are part of learning and living in this world. 

Typically, when discussing the S-E-T part of the Framework teams find that, collectively, they know and can agree upon a LOT, but they also find that they have some different thoughts about questions that still need to be answered. It is those unanswered questions that for the scope and expected outcomes of an evaluation.

When the team is comfortable moving forward to seeking useful tools, the first question they address would be “If there is something “out there” that would help this student do these tasks in these environments, what would it be like?”  This is an empowering question because people do not have to know the “features” of tools to take part in the development of the description.  Once the possible tools are described the work moves to the identification of tools that fit the description. Possibly one or more persons on the team may know of promising tools, but, if not, this is a good place to look for assistance. Some questions that might be helpful include:

  • How can we find out about tools that match that description?
  • Who who can we ask for assistance (if needed)
  • Is there a place where we can preview possible tools?
  • What are the most promising Tools for trial?

Ready?…Gather the Team... SETT? Explore the Student/Self, Environments, and Tasks... Go! Take off to find the Tools that are student/self-centered, environmentally useful, task focused… and the race to participation and achievement is on!

To find more information about the SETT Framework, see specific questions that can help a team get started and scaffolds that support use of the Framework, visit

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