Individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) are known to have deficits in problem-solving skills within the realm of social communication, which may pose a barrier to employment (Livermore & Goodman, 2009). The ability to provide appropriate verbal responses is critical to success in an inclusive workplace for people with ID (Alber, Heward, & Hippler, 1999). Foley and colleagues (2013) found individuals with ID with strong communication skills were more likely to be engaged in independent employment than peers with weak communication skills. Furthermore, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA; 2014) mandated improved access to inclusive employment opportunities for people with disabilities. However, social communication for the workplace is a seldom addressed skill (Langford, 2013; Matsumoto & Hwang, 2013b). In an attempt to contribute to the research base surrounding workplace communication skills for individuals with ID the researcher conducted an experimental group design study to examine the effects of mixed-reality virtual peer interactions on workplace problem-solving. The Innovative Facilitation of Requisite Communication Skills for Employment (In-FORCE) intervention consisted of four 5-minute interactions with a virtual avatar playing the role of a peer in the TLE TeachLivE (TLE) virtual environment. Each participant in the treatment group completed the intervention. During interactions participants discussed workplace problem scenarios with the peer avatar, and received coaching and feedback from the avatar. Scenarios were based on a soft skills curriculum from the U.S. DOL (n.d.) and were validated by experts in the field of entry level employment. Problem-solving achievement was measured using a checklist. Checklist data were analyzed between pretest and posttest based on group assignment using a repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) with one factor between. The results of the analysis indicated positive change between pretest and posttest for individual members of the treatment group, but the results were not statistically significant. A possible reason for this lack of significance is the minimal amount of time participants spent engaged in the intervention. The 20 minutes total intervention time was advantageous as it (1) required participants to spend minimal time away from regular daily activities; (2) controlled the emotional impact of the interactions, as 5 minutes in a simulator has been found to have to the emotional equivalence of 30 minutes of human interaction (Dieker, Hynes, Hughes, & Smith, 2008); and (3) it allowed the intervention to be delivered at the cost of $40 per participant. Despite controlling for time in this study, more time engaged in the intervention may have led to more noticeable results. Building upon potential changes and future implications the researcher discusses the findings, implications for problem-solving and employment skills training, and the reconceptualization of research practices for individuals with ID.


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Graduation Date





Dieker, Lisa


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Education and Human Performance

Degree Program

Education; Exceptional Education









Release Date

August 2016

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)