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Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training

Personalising Assistive Technology Solutions

The type of Assistive Technology introduced to a student with a specific learning disability must be designed to address the particular learning difficulties the student experiences. This can only be determined through a full assessment that defines the specific learning difficulties of the student. It is important to understand that each person will have their own unique profile of learning difficulties and each student that you encounter may have a very different experience of SLD. The difficulties they experience can be one or a combination of difficulties in the area of listening, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, mathematics and organisation.

The First Step

The first step when exploring with the student for the right AT assistance is to develop an understanding of the student’s level of comfort and competence in the use of digital technology. This is especially important given our awareness that there are significant gaps in ICT knowledge and skills within the adult population. According to the Skills Matter: Survey of Adult Skills (2016) by the OECD, this gap in skills and knowledge has occurred even with more than 70% of households reporting a computer in the home. 27% of adults report having no experience in using computers with a large portion who do use digital technologies reporting that their use is limited to social media and emails. These students explain that word processing requirements can be a very new experience for them as they return to study. It is important that the technologies recommended to students to support their participation in education are carefully selected to ensure a high degree of confidence and competence in their use. It is also important to know when to recommend Assistive Technologies into a student support plan given a degree of confidence in using technology is an important pre-requisite to introducing Assistive Technologies.

The SETT Framework for Determining Assistive Technology Requirements

For some students word processing requirements can be a new experience. Therefore it is important that the technologies recommended are carefully selected to ensure a high degree of confidence and competence in their use. The SETT framework developed by Joy Zabala from the Center for Applied Special Technology, is an instrument to support the decisions around selecting assistive technology with students. The SETT framework guides the process through a series of questions designed to understand the:




     Tools required to complete tasks

Questions to ask about the Student

      • What is (are) the functional area(s) of concern (Learning difficulties)?
      • What strengths (current abilities and coping strategies does the student utilise to manage difficulties now)?
      • What does the student need to be able to do what is difficult or impossible to do independently at this time?
      • Is the student motivated to try new technology?

Questions to ask about the Environment

      • Does the student currently have access to technology, if so are suitable accessibility features available on the student device?
      • Is there opportunity to access (borrow) technology through the learning environment
      • Is there support available to the student to guide their learning in the use of new technology
      • Will academic staff support the use of AT in the learning environment (lecture / tutorial / workshop)
      • What AT is commonly used in this environment to address similar learning barriers?
      • Will the AT require internet connectivity? Will this be a barrier?

Questions to ask about the Tasks

      • Exactly what are the tasks required to participate in and succeed in this course of study? Develop a broad understanding of the range of participation activities and assessment methods as well as the volume of activity.

Exploring the Technology

      • From the prior questions a picture has emerged that clarifies whether the student will be able to make progress / or will experience academic disadvantage without Assistive Technology.
      • Discuss with the student the technologies that can address the specific barriers of the student.
      • Wherever possible prioritise options that are affordable and sustainable (can be easily accessed by the student on completion of their studies).
      • Begin with the Accessibility options or applications that are available for the student’s own devices.
      • With the student, select and develop a plan for introducing the Assistive Technology into their academic environment (Ensure education and support in using the AT is planned in the immediate future for the student – this reduces the likelihood of abandonment or under-utilisation of Assistive Technology due to persistent difficulties in the early stages of use).

 Below is a video providing an overview of the SETT framework



Ahmad, F. (2015). Use of Assistive Technology in Inclusive Education: Making Room for Diverse Learning Needs. Transience. Vol 6    Issue 2.
Chiu, T.L. Liou, H.C, Yeh, Y. (2007). A study of web based oral activities enhanced by automatic speech recognition for EFL College   learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 20(3),  209-233.
Edyburn, D., Higgins, K., & Boone, R. (2005). Handbook of special education technology research and practice. Journal of Special Education Technology, 20, 62-63.
Hecker, M. & Engstron, E. (2005). Technology that supports literacy instruction and learning. In  Birsh, J. Multi sensory teaching of basic language skills (2 Ed.). Illinois: Brookes Publishing.
Higgins, E.L., Raskind, M.H. (2004). Speech recognition-based and automaticity programs to help  students with severe reading and spelling problems. Annals of Dyslexia, 54(2), 365-392.
LaJeunesse, S. (2011). Graphic Organisers Aid Students with Learning Disabilities. Retrieved from learning-disabilities.html
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2016), Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills. OECD Skills Studies, OECD Publishing,  Paris.
Zabala, J. (2005). Using the SETT Framework to Level the Learning Field for Students with disabilities. Retrieved from