2006 Conference Proceedings




Ira Socol
Michigan State University
13818 S. Traditions Way
Holland MI 49424
Day Phone: 616-204-0296
Fax: 616-395-8499
Email: socolira@msu.edu

Joy Zabala's SETT framework is widely used to choose AT solutions, but student self-determination requires a different formula, one that encourages task-specific solutions.

When first introduced to Joy Zabala's SETT Framework in 1999 I was thrilled. After spending two years stumbling through the question of how to determine appropriate technology for students with disabilities in educational environments I had discovered a systematic approach that would help me in my practice while also helping to explain the process to educators and students.

SETT works as a powerful strategy in K-12 education where school-based teams work to find solutions. Beginning with the student's strengths and limitations, SETT is effective in finding an initial solution set. I was working with high school and college students, the most successful students in the high-incidence disabilities group. When I applied SETT to student-based decision-making, the data-collection order did not make sense to those students. There was frustration, on the part of students, with what one university freshman called the, "my problems first," approach. There was also the sense that it did not direct flexibility the need for different answers to different problems. In 1996 Sheryl L. Day and Barbara J. Edwards wrote, "To be motivated to learn to use technology the student must accept that a disability exists and have an immediate need that can be met by the technology." For me this meant that the task must come first.

A college student with a reading disability may need to develop a range of strategies for reading. One for "life-reading" job applications, hospital forms, another for reading done in English courses, a third for technical reading, and a fourth for testing. A student with MS needs different mobility solutions for different forms of travel (long trips, short moves) and different weather. A high school student with ADHD may need to alter his solutions based on the difference between a long block schedule class on Tuesday and its shorter counterpart on Friday, because teaching methods change from room to room, or because his morning has been better or worse.

Though SETT and assessments of strengths and weaknesses such as the WATI framework are essential pre-cursors in terms of the student developing a strong sense of their skills and needs as well as of possible technologies and other solutions, this is not the way people traditionally choose tools.

Looking at a tool chest, a workers' first question is not the strength of his hand or his eyesight, it is the job. Does wood need to be cut or joined? Is it a Phillips-head screw, a slotted-head screw, or a hex-head bolt? Do we need to paint a car or a house? Are we making one cut or 500?

The second question is environmental. Is the screw in question is on a roof instead of in a board which sits on a workbench? Would we use gasoline-powered saws inside or an electrical saw outside in a rainstorm?

Once those elements are established, then the question of individual strengths and limitations come into play. We look at grip and stamina, eyesight, dexterity, for now we can match those specific needs to specific choices.

Now, faced with a drawer full of screwdrivers, we can assess, based on self-knowledge, whether we need a power driver or ratchet handle to add strength or just a large handle to help our grip.

Thus the TEST framework is suggested: Task, Environment, Skills, Tools. This is a structure designed to help students make situational choices across their lifetime.

1. What needs to be done? (when possible, break the task down into component parts)
1. Where must this be done (or is typically done)?
2. Under what time constraints?
3. What is the standard method of task completion?
4. How does the person with the disability interact within this environment?
5. Who is the task being done for? (specifics of teacher, employer, other expectations)
1. What specific strengths does the person with the disability bring to this task?
2. What specific weaknesses interfere with that person's ability to complete the task?
3. What is that person's "tool acquisition aptitude" and what tools are they currently comfortable with?
1. What tool best "bridges the gap" between the current skill set and what is needed for task completion?
2. If the tool is not already "in the toolbox" (the person has been successfully trained in its use), how does the environmental timeline match with the needed learning curve?
3. If it is not possible to use the "best tool" within this environment what is the "back-up tool"? How do we pre-train so the best tool can be used the next time?

The Student
1. What does the Student need to do?
2. What are the Student's special needs?
3. What are the Student's current abilities?
The Environment
1. What materials and equipment are currently available in the environment'?
2. What is the physical arrangement? Are there special concerns?
3. What is the instructional arrangement? Are there likely to be changes?
4.What supports are available to the student?
5. What resources are available to the people supporting the student?
The Task
1. What activities take place in the environment?
2. What activities support the student's curriculum?
3. What are the critical elements of the activities?
4. How might the activities be modified to accommodate the student's special needs?
5. How might technology support the student's active participation in those activities?

The Tools
What strategies might be used to invite increased student performance? What no-tech, low-tech, and high-tech options should be considered when developing a system for a student with these needs and abilities doing these tasks in these environments?
2. How might these tools be tried out with the student in the customary environments in which they will be used?

Consider, for example, the student with a severe reading disability. In order to successfully drive he or she probably needs strong memory work on signs and symbols, including word shape recognition. To take the written driving test he or she may need a reader or a reading pen. To read hand-written messages social strategies about how to ask may be needed. But for school tasks, reading a book, taking a long academic test, following complex written instructions, different solutions are necessary. The final step of the SETT framework provides the base of self and tool knowledge, and now TEST allows this student to make choices on their own.

Thus the choice of an actor-read audio book might be the solution for a novel for an English teacher seeking general understanding, but might be less effective if there was testing on specific passages. In that case a computer reader with highlighting might be a better option. Microsoft Reader might be most effective for a college student who needs to quickly convert classroom documents into speech but would not be a wise pick if the primary classroom need were website reading. Using TEST, the student would look at each task, judge the environment, and then using his or her own self-knowledge, would be ready to choose the appropriate tool.

Teaching TEST
The TEST framework can not work without groundwork. I often compare many high school seniors with learning disabilities that I meet to a student unable to walk who has never seen a wheelchair. If students have never been exposed to possible disability solutions they are unequipped for self-determination. Involvement in the SETT process, active participation in education plan conferences, guided and self-directed research into disability solutions are all important. I have had success trying to push students through a high-speed version of this process in their high school senior year, but undoubtedly results would improve if schools adopted these goals beginning no later than middle school.

With that background the student must be empowered through a number of conditions, including the ability to borrow assistive technology solutions, the freedom to test various practices, and training in tracking how these tested accommodations alter task success. In tracking task success students can learn to look at direct results (improved test scores), indirect results (less time required for task completion), and affective indicators (improvements in mood, self-image, stress levels).

The TEST framework can also not work without attitude shifts among service providers. Overworked technology specialists, secondary-level resource room faculty and college disability office staff with high caseload numbers, and administrators with limited budgets may seek out solutions that are already owned or which have proven successful with other students. It may be frustrating to watch a student pick unlikely solutions and struggle with those choices.

The student with a disability however, will need to make an ever-evolving set of technology choices throughout their lifetime. Their capabilities may change, their environments surely will, and there is no doubt that the tool choices will continue to diversify and show new capabilities. When those changes occur the assessment teams at the heart of the SETT process will not be available. If we are not teaching a fully self-determination approach, we will not be giving students lifespan skills.

Zabala, Joy. Get SETT for successful inclusion and transition. (2002). http://www.ldonline.org/ ld_indepth/technology/zabalaSETT1.html

Dave L. Edyburn, Ph.D. Models, Theories, and Frameworks: Contributions to Understanding Special Education Technology March/April 2001 Special Education Technology Practice

Zabala, Joy. The SETT Framework: Critical areas to consider when making informed assistive technology decisions. Presentation: Closing the Gap Conference on the Use of Assistive Technology in Special Education and Rehabilitation October 1995 http://www.joyzabala.com

Sheryl L. Day and Barbara J. Edwards. Assistive Technology for Postsecondary
Students with Learning Disabilities September 1996 Journal of Learning Disabilities Volume 29, Number 5, pp. 486-492

Heather M. Hartman-Hall and David A. F. Haaga. College Students' Willingness to Seek Help for their Learning Disabilities Fall 2002 Learning Disability Quarterly 25 no4 263-274

Go to previous article
Go to next article
Return to 2006 Table of Contents

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright