AAC for Speech-Language Pathologists

AAC Decision Making: The SETT Framework

This is a way to decide what works best.

What is SETT?

SETT stands for Student, Environment, Tasks, & Tools. This is a framework that helps to organize the information we gather about a student needing assistive technology (AT). It helps us to match the needs and abilities of the student with the right tools. The framework was created by Dr. Joy Zabala. It is currently used by many districts and Intermediate Units (IUs) in Pennsylvania as a means of fostering collaboration between all those supporting a student who needs AT/AAC.

Features Matching

The SETT Framework is all about matching features.  This means that we look at the needs of the student and find the device that has the features that will meet those needs.  Why do we need to match features? “Aren’t all AAC devices and apps the same?”  No. Each person is an individual.  This is all about access. Students may have needs in one or more of the following areas: 

  • Physical access 
  • Vision
  • Hearing 
  • Fine motor skills
  • Cognitive access
  • Attention/Executive Function

SETT framework form with columns for student environment technology and tools. The team writes in these columns to describe the student.

SETT Meetings

One size most definitely does NOT fit all. We need a way to record how the student does across the school day. We need to know the demands placed upon them and barriers to participation they face. This information is typically gathered on a SETT Form. You can create your own (just make sure to give attribution to Dr. Zabala). A member of the team can be assigned to fill out the SETT forms at the initial meeting. The completed forms can then be shared with everyone. Click on the image on the right to see one version of a SETT form. There are typically four columns; Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools (hence the acronym). Some teams divide the Tools column into what is being used now and what should be tried. Based on all the information gathered, the team selects the communication systems they think might work for the student. 

Assignment of Responsibilities

Some districts use a second form that lists each team member’s responsibilities and a timeline for completion. This is a very good idea. Everyone should leave the meeting feeling like they know what they need to do next. Typically, the next step is to borrow and trial devices. These should have the features we think the student needs.

A look at some common team responsibilities is below:

Team Member Responsibility
Teacher Identify activities where language can be modeled, implement visual supports and begin to model language.
Speech pathologist Borrow AAC device(s) from TechOWL or PaTTAN. Set up the vocabulary and customize for the student’s needs. Not from Pennsylvania? Check out the AT3 Center to find your state program. Create data collection forms. Train staff on Communication Partner skills.
Occupational therapist Consult with the team on the best means of access to the device (direct touch, keyguard, switches, eye gaze, etc)
Physical therapist Determine best positioning for optimal access and attention to the device
Parent Help determine any specific vocabulary needed to highlight the student’s preferred topics of vocabulary, model AAC across daily routines

The team may also include a vision specialist or other specialist. It depends on the student’s needs.


Once the plan is put into action, the team will need to collect data, both quantitative and qualitative, and review the results. Examples of AAC data collection forms can be found on Pinterest. The outcome of the device trial(s) will determine next steps. A Re-SETT meeting should be held. The team may decide to pursue the acquisition of the device or may choose to do further trials. There is nothing wrong with needing to try something else. We don’t always find the right device right off the bat. In the end, student preference will be an important determining factor.

Some final thoughts on the SETT Framework. It is ideally suited for use in the schools. This context allows for the evaluation process to occur over time. Teams have the opportunity to get more than just a “snapshot” of the student’s abilities. School-based services also allow for the kind of transdisciplinary teaming that can ensure effective and collaborative device implementation. The team should include everyone who is concerned about the progress of the child. Parents are important team members and play a vital role. They help ensure that skills are generalized to activities outside of the school or therapy.