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Incorporating software strategies into workplace coaching sessions for employees with dyslexia

Patrick Mulcahy, BA, PG Cert Teaching Adult Dyslexic Learners in FE/HE, PG Dip SpLD (Dyslexia)

Having worked in the DSA sector for over 20 years, I was keen to investigate if some of the good practice gleaned from this experience could be adapted to my current roles as a workplace assessor, diagnostician, and coach. Previously, I worked on developing the strategy enhancement approach to DSA assessing which took as a basis: Need, Strategy, Solution. This addressed several issues at the time in that it focussed on the software strategy required and therefore the solution was not working backwards from a product but related more to the features needed.

The aim of the strategy enhancement approach was to develop a single approach to assessing students with neurodiverse conditions which would allow downstream services (IT Training, and Specialist one to one Study Skills) to follow up on an assessor’s recommendations ensuring a more cohesive service which could be quantified and qualified.

Against this background, I incorporated the same approach when undertaking workplace assessments and coaching. The basic premise is that the assessor uses the diagnostic report as the basis of recommendations complemented by the assessor’s observations on how the employee has learned to adapt previously in the work environment. All previous strategies used by the employee would be used to inform the suitability of using the array of multi-sensory hardware and software solutions available. In my reports I included a programme of software strategies to ensure that employees received training pertinent to their need rather than generic features-based training.

The support provided aimed to build on the employee’s existing strategies; use a schema and list of strategies firmly grounded in the reality of the work based tasks; use a scaffolding approach with respect to coaching practice; re-frame the existing approach to using software when undertaking work based tasks; and empower the employee so that their work is more commensurate with their potential with a concomitant improvement in self-esteem.

Due to COVID-19 most workplace assessments, training and coaching sessions are being undertaken on-line. The use of virtual platforms allows the same teaching techniques used by universities and colleges to be adopted. Against this background, I contend that an appropriate context for incorporating software strategies into an employee’s battery of learning tools is during a coaching session. A workplace coach is in an ideal situation to determine an employee’s point of need given they should have access to the workplace assessment report and are able to explore the concerns of their clients over a protracted period of time.

Meeting the Employee’s Point of Need during Coaching Sessions

Research shows that children with dyslexia tend to have issues with low self-esteem. Therefore, it seems likely that programmes will be more successful if, alongside practical support, they emphasise activities and tasks that allow dyslexic learners to recognise not only their weaknesses but also their strengths and areas of competence‟ (Eliot, Davidson, Lewin, 2007). The repercussions of rejection in early learning echo throughout one’s life, i.e. it erodes self-esteem which, in itself, is an indication of low self-efficacy. The SpLD Working Party Report on Dyslexia (2005: 6) notes that: ‘Low self-esteem, often due to past humiliations, is especially apparent in mature students’.

Coaching should allow employees to build on their self-confidence and self-esteem and to introduce forms of support to help them bridge the gap between their current abilities and intended goals while taking into account their phonological and working memory and other issues that may be related to the wide range of specific learning difficulties. According to Bandura (1995: 2): „Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations‟.

There are four major sources for influencing personal competence (Bandura, 1977). First, self-efficacy beliefs can be enhanced through personal accomplishment or mastery as far as success is attributed internally and can be repeated. A second source is vicarious experience. When a ‘model person’ who is similar to the individual successfully masters a difficult situation, social comparison processes can enhance self-efficacy beliefs. Third, there is symbolic experience through verbal persuasion by others (e.g. a teacher reassures a student). The last source is emotional arousal, that is, the person experiences anxiety in a threatening situation and thus feels incapable of mastering the situation. A low sense of self-efficacy is associated with depression and anxiety. Persons with low self-efficacy can also have low self-esteem and may harbour pessimistic thoughts about their accomplishments and personal development.

A further issue relates to concentration. Maintaining attention to the task at hand is a cognitive function that often seems indistinguishable from working memory. ‘There is an exceptionally strong relationship between working memory and attention‟ (Dehn 2008: 84). In order to ensure that the coaching circumvents this difficulty, a variety of teaching strategies should be used such as modelling, feedback, questioning, and cognitive structuring. According to Mortimore (2008:113): ‘the most effective programmes seem to be those that involve two approaches: (i) they are firmly grounded within the real tasks that need to be accomplished; and (ii) they follow the social-learning apprenticeship model…sometimes termed the scaffolding, modelling or apprenticeship approach‟.

The goal is for internalisation to take place. Vygotsky (1978: 86) defined the Zone of Proximal Development as ‘the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development
as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers’. Larkin (2001) researched teachers who ‘scaffolded‟ instruction (those who incorporated several of the eight essential elements of scaffolding into instruction) and this was seen to have positive results. This was the approach I adopted during coaching sessions. I adapted the eight-step list compiled by Nist and Mealey (1991) and incorporated this into my teaching of software strategies as follows:


  1. focus the attention of the employee.
  2. provide the employee with a general overview of the strategy and the context within which it would be used.
  3. demonstrate the strategy by using the ‘share screen’ feature of remote platforms e.g. Zoom, MS Teams, WebEx etc.
  4. guide the practice – employee repeats the strategy but is able to ask for assistance.
  5. independent practice – employee undertakes strategy without recourse to asking for assistance.


If technological recommendations for employees with dyslexia includes a schema of software strategies, then the context in which they are delivered should ideally address the employees point of need. Workplace coaches should be familiar with teaching practice to ensure effective delivery as they are ideally placed to meet this point of need. Meeting the point of need produces a more appropriate context for imparting knowledge that is internalised and integrated into the employee’s approach to learning. Providers of coaching support should work towards being able to provide this service if we are to deliver best value for money for employers. All workplace coaches should familiarise themselves with the accessibility features of software being used by their clients and at a very minimum be aware of the accessibility features of software that is in common use in the workplace (see examples at Appendix I below).

Employers in turn should take note of the importance of ‘vicarious experience’ (see above) and consider creating discussion lists for all employees with Neurodiverse conditions in receipt of workplace assessments. This will enable the cascading of good practice.

All software strategies can, in effect, be recommendations for the workplace coach as well as the trainer. The corollary being that all training providers for employees with dyslexia should be cognizant of and have some experience of teaching practice.

Appendix 1

Change screen colour on Ipad:

  1. Go to Settings and elect Accessibility
  2. Select Display and Text Size
  3. Select ‘colour filters’ and turn it on – make sure colour tint is checked
  4. ‘hue’ will change colour and ‘intensity’ will change depth of colour
  5. You can turn this off by going back to step 3 and turning colour filters off.

Have text read aloud on your Ipad:

  1. Go to Settings and elect Accessibility
  2. Select ‘spoken content’
  3. Turn on ‘speak selection’ (you can come back to this step to customise speed etc)
  4. Switch ‘highlight content’ on (you can come back to this step to customise colours etc)
  5. Return one step and select ‘voices’ to choose the voice you would like (you may need to download certain voices)
  6. You can use Speak Selection anywhere you can select text, such as in emails, websites, and documents: Select the text you want to have to read aloud. To hear the highlighted text read aloud, tap the Speak button in the menu that appears.

Dictating text to your Ipad:

  1. In an Ipad Pro you can dictate when you are offline
  2. Go to ‘settings – general – keyboard – switch on enable dictation’
  3. A keyboard should pop up when you would usually type. This feature is not always available on all apps.

Microsoft Office 365

Using Immersive Reader: This can be found on the View ribbon. It includes:

  • Column Width – allows the user to read in columns similar (this can reduce the need for saccadic eye movement)
  • Page Colour – a palette of colours is available for users to choose
  • Line focus – whereby the viewable area can be restricted to one, three of five lines
  • Text Spacing – increases the distance between words
  • Read aloud – users can select from a range of voices.


Bandura, A (1977), Self-efficacy: The exercise of Control. New York: Freeman.

Bandura, A. (1995). Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies. Cambridge University Press. Cohen, L., & Manion, L. (2000). Research methods in education. Routledge. p. 254. (5th edition).

Dehn, M., (2008) „Working memory and academic learning: assessment and intervention‟ Canada p:84

Eliot, D., Davidson, J., Lewin, J. Literature Review of Current Approaches to the Provision of Education for Children with Dyslexia HM Inspectorate of Education

Larkin, M. J. (2001). Providing support for student independence through scaffolded instruction. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 34(1), 30-34.

Mortimore, T. (2008), Dyslexia and Learning Style – A Practitioner’s Handbook, 2nd ed., London: Wiley & Sons Ltd

Patoss (2005). SpLD Working Group 2005/DfES Guidelines

Vygotsky, L, S, (1978). Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes, p. 86 Cambridge: Harvard University Press,