The assistive technology (AT) assessment process

What is the AT assessment process?

AT assessment process consists of gathering information about what, and how, a student is using AT in order to find ways to meet the needs of the learners by matching the strengths and weaknesses of the learner to the device.

There are three outcomes of the AT assessment process:

  • AT is not needed at this time and the basis of this decision is documented in the IEP.
  • AT is in use and is effective/sufficient as specified in IEP.  
  • More information is needed before a decision can be made.

Recommendations for AT assessment

Rothstein and Everson (1995) suggest several guidelines for decision making regarding assistive technology that are still applicable even with today’s rapidly changing technology, including:

  • Look for simple solutions;
  • Consider the learning and work style of the student; 
  • Look at each device for ease of use and maintenance, adaptability, portability, dependability, durability, and technical support needed; 
  • Investigate all options; 
  • Compare similar devices from different manufacturers; and 
  • Purchase devices only after consulting with a professional.

The SETT framework: A tool for AT assessment

To foster optimal AT use, a good technology assessment tool is essential. One framework that has been widely used by many IEP teams is the Student, Environments, Tasks, and Tools (SETT) Framework (Zabala, 2005).

What is the SETT framework?

The Student, Environments, Tasks, and Tools (SETT) Framework was developed to help school teams gather information needed to make decisions around the assistive technology needs of their students. It focuses on the needs of the Student, within specific Environment(s), in order to participate in Tasks, which then leads to potential Tools, which can be used within that environment, to accomplish the tasks identified by the school. The SETT framework is considered to be the leading resource for AT assessment in the USA. You can find additional SETT Framework documents on Joy Zabala’s website and by searching online.

How does it work?

Step 1: The SETT Framework is essentially a means to analyze what the student needs to do that they are not presently able to do in a particular environment. Some of the key questions to ask about the STUDENT are:

  • What does the student need to do?
  • What are the student’s special [unique] needs?
  • What are the student’s current abilities?

Knowing the student’s strengths, needs and preferences is critical to matching this information with the appropriate tools and strategies for their learning.

Step 2: The team looks at the environment in which the student needs to participate. The environment is key because it can play a large role in how the student uses the equipment. Some of the key questions about the ENVIRONMENT are:

  • 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?

Step 3: The team needs to create a detailed analysis of the TASK(S) that the student needs to accomplish in that environment by looking at:

  • What are the critical elements of the activities?
  • How might the activities be modified to accommodate the student’s needs

This leads to the question of how technology might support the student’s active participation in those activities. All of these questions are then considered before attempting to identify the features or components of the tools needed to complete these tasks.

Step 4: Finally, after reviewing all the above factors, the team can investigate assistive technology TOOLS:

  • What no-tech, low-tech, or high-tech tools 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 and strategies be tried out with the student in the customary environments in which they will be used?

Other AT assessment tools

The following frameworks can be used in place of the SETT framework to guide AT assessment:

More about AT assessment

  • The Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI): The Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative website provides free copies of the WATI AT Assessment forms that can be downloaded as well as a wealth of information on assistive technology and assistive technology assessments including a pdf copy of Assessing Students’ Need for Assistive Technology (Reed & Lahm, 2004). Forms are available in both English and Spanish.


Rothstein, R., & Everson, J. (1995). Assistive technology for individuals with sensory impairments. In K. Flippo, K. Inge, & J. Barcus (Eds.), Assistive technology: A resource for school, work, and community (pp. 105-129). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes

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