RESOURCE, NEWS: Making the XO Laptop Accessible
If you’ve seen the media hype about it, then you know that the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project wants to put a low-cost laptop into the hands of every child in primary schools in developing countries. The idea is to give children a tool for taking their own education into their own hands so they will learn more. Now people on an email list called “accessibility”, and people in the on-line wiki community, are working on ways to ensure that these laptops will be more accessible and usable for children with disabilities.
In November, I wrote an opinion piece about the XO Laptop project. Basically I said I thought it was a great concept. And I still think that–in fact, I have now bought one of the XO laptops for myself through a short-term “Get one, Give one” program that ended in December 2007. One laptop is being shipped to me (meaning, no, it hasn’t arrived yet). Another laptop is being shipped to a child in a developing country somewhere. But I had, and still have, concerns about its accessibility for disabled children. And I find it disappointing that OLPC has not made it a stronger, and clearer, priority to make it usable by children with various vision, mobility, and other impairments.
But the good news is that an on-line community exists for people who want to help make the XO laptop more accessible to children with disabilities in developing countries. Specifically, the Accessibility mailing list at:
And there is also a “wiki” web site devoted to accessibility issues for the XO laptop. A “wiki” site enables people from around the world to collaborate with each other, via the web, on a common goal. In this case, the wiki laptop accessibility community enables people with the needed technical skills to work together to make the XO laptop more usable for users with disabilities. Start here to see a list of specific problems that have been identified with the XO for children with various disabilities:
Both on-line communities appear to be relatively small. But both would surely welcome new members with fresh energy and ideas. People with disabilities could share feedback about the features they need that would make the XO more accessible to them. If you have an XO of your own, you could play around with it to identify accessibility barriers that need more work. This is especially important if you discover that the barriers you identify, or the ideas you have for fixing it, have not already been listed at the wiki community page.
Even better: if you have an XO, and you know a disabled child, you could watch them while they try out all the different features of the XO. Ask them for their reactions, and observe where they run into problems. Share the results with the on-line community.
And, of course, if you have computer design, programming, or other relevant skills, then maybe you could help develop a way to improve the XO. And not just in terms of software. Also think about the needs of children with mobility impairments who might have trouble physically operating the XO as it is currently designed.
Before becoming active in the on-line OLPC accessibility discussion/brainstorming groups, you may wish to browse through the archives of past discussions:
Thank you to the anonymous individual who left a comment at my opinion essay to alert me to the mailing list on XO accessibility.
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