Give One, Get One XO Laptop Per Child

Posted on 25 November 2008. Filed under: Announcements, Children, Education, News, Opportunities, Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

They’re simple, rugged, and low-cost. And their more ardent fans think they can transform the world–one educated child at a time. Since the first XO laptops rolled off the assembly line in November 2006, hundreds of thousands of children in low-income countries have been using them in the classroom and at home. If you haven’t heard the hype yet, you can explore the website for the new, but increasingly famous One Laptop Per Child project at

The latest news is:, people in the US, Canada, and Europe are now able to purchase an XO laptop for a child at home–if they will agree to also buy a laptop for a child they have never met somewhere abroad. From now until December 26, 2008, people in the US, Canada, and Europe may go to A total of $399 in US dollars (or £275 in UK pounds) buys one XO laptop that can be shipped to your child and a second laptop to be shipped to a child in a developing country.

Because they are cheaper than most computers, XO laptops fit a little more easily into the education budgets of developing countries, especially if donors step in to help. Do they really enhance children’s learning experience as dramatically as the XO’s most earnest supporters believe? Some critics are not so sure. But others remain enthusiastic. I’ll let We Can Do readers google for more competing opinions at and on their own. But as a small sampling: various articles report that Microsoft and Intel don’t like the competition, and even some former employees of the One Laptop Per Child project are critics of the way the head of the company, Nicolas Negroponte, runs the business. But they seem to like the XO in Peru. And one US blogger with an XO shares his own thoughts on the subject.

What of children with disabilities? The XO is a bit of a mixed bag. Some features are good for some children with some disabilities (eg, built-in camera, good for signing deaf kids). But others are not so great for other children (eg, the interface is very visual–not so great for blind kids). I wrote some more thoughts on the topic last year at—but-is-it-inclusive/.

I remain disappointed now, as I was then, that the people who developed the XO don’t seem to be as proactively inclusive of the needs of people with disabilities as I think they could be and should be. But some independent XO fans and programmers are working on solutions. If you want to join their on-line discussions on the topic, you can sign up for their free email-based discussion group at Or, if you want to learn more about the accessibility issues for XO laptops, you can explore the online “Wiki” community on the topic at

What of adults who simply want a cheap, portable laptop for their own use? If you’re in the US, Canada, or Europe, then nothing would stop you from buying one for yourself. But be aware that the keyboard is designed for the small hands of primary school-aged children. If your hands are the same size as most adults, you will find it hard to touch type on the cramped keyboard. You might have to resort to two-fingered (or possibly four-fingered) typing. Also, the interface is geared toward young, creative children who might never have seen a computer before. An adult who has spent too many years using more boring, typical computers for “grown-ups” in developed countries might initially be confused about how to access its most basic programs.

Learn more about its software and hardware at There is an on-line forum where people who are bewildered by their XOs can ask for help from other users: People with more disability-specific questions will probably want to join the accessibility mailing list I mentioned above, at so they can exchange ideas, information, and solutions with other list members.

Or if all else fails, give your new XO to a young child you know and ask them to teach you how to use it. That is, if you decide to buy one.

I learned about this year’s “Give One, Get One” project through a mailing from the One Laptop Per Child project.

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RESOURCE, NEWS: Making the XO Laptop Accessible

Posted on 5 January 2008. Filed under: Children, Cross-Disability, Education, News, Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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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