Setting up a computer for a Syrian refugee family — what am I missing?
February 24, 2016 6:27 AM   Subscribe

We're working with a Syrian refugee family in our community (Canada has a lot these days!). I've been tasked with sourcing and setting up a computer for them to use for basic web browsing and Facebook. I've tried twice, run into trouble each time, and would love suggestions from anyone who's familiar with setting up computers in Arabic. Windows? Ubuntu? Details inside.

This is the 3rd time we've tried to provide a computer, so I'm hoping to get it right this time. A special snowflake note: Translators are few and far between in our community, so we're mostly communicating with the family — parents in their mid-20s with an infant son — via Google Translate or similar apps.

Attempt #1 was on an old Acer netbook. I installed a Windows 10 download (reading that it's usable without licensing it, albeit with possible warnings from Microsoft) , and managed to get the languages set up. Worked fast enough. Got it to the family, then learned that the man has bad eyesight (illness in refugee camp) and the screen was way too small for him to use.

Attempt #2 was an old Sony Vaio laptop with a cranky fan. Installed a version of Ubuntu, set up Arabic languages across the board. No login passwords so nothing to remember. Worked fine for a day, then sort of up and died. It's old.

So, I'm now on Attempt #3, with a 1.9Ghz dual-core Dell (1GB RAM) that's been donated by a friend, and a 17-inch monitor. Computer works and screen is large enough, so I've overcome the first couple hurdles.

Before I get in, any recommendations from people who have worked in similar situations (i.e., setting up computers for individuals who speak a different language?). If it were French, Spanish or similar I could muddle through, but Arabic is completely unfamiliar to me.

Other notable things:

- I'm not sure their level of computer literacy, and the language barrier is high, so explaining things like login passwords is difficult.

- We just received a set of Arabic stickers that go over the English keys on the keyboard.

I did some Googling and wasn't able to find any helpful resources. Links to resources are greatly appreciated.
posted by lukez to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would go with Mint rather than Ubuntu, since it's more newbiefriendly. 32-bits XFCE version should run well on your hardware. Set it up just the way you did with Ubuntu on the Vaio.
posted by Too-Ticky at 6:59 AM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do basic computer instruction though not in Arabic.

If you're not going to be their ongoing support person for this, give them an operating system that most people in their community will know their way around so that they can get help from people who aren't you. I am a huge Open Source fan in general but I think with novice users it's really important to make sure they can get support from the largest possible group. If you have a support situation set up, then feel free to do what you want.

If it were me I might also go back to computer #1 and see if you couldn't up the contrast and font sizes and have it be a suitable emailing machine for them. A portable computer is MUCH better for novice users because they can bring it to a place like a library if they need help and get assistance from other people without having to bring it into their home.
posted by jessamyn at 7:11 AM on February 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

If you want simple and inexpensive can you use a chromebook with arabic language selected and the vision related accessibility features enabled?

It would cost some money but save you lots and lots of time in terms of support.

Also your original solution may actually be viable if you enable windows 10's accessibility features.
posted by srboisvert at 8:41 AM on February 24, 2016

Also in the direction of the simplicity of a Chromebook: This recent Verge article describes how the Nerverware ChromeOS variant can revitalize old laptop hardware to be truly useful again. I haven't gone through any setup or use of it myself, but it looks like it could work out. ChromeOS certainly does have a full Arabic localization in it. And it's often described as a great choice for people not otherwise familiar with computing paradigms.
posted by BlackPebble at 8:48 AM on February 24, 2016

This may be beyond your responsibilities but wouldn't a smartphone make more sense? As someone who writes in different languages all day, I find my smartphone's language settings far easier than on a computer. The keyboard switches automatically on my phone and switching between languages is one flick.
If the goal is to use Facebook and browse, those things are far easier on a smartphone too. In terms of technical support, I find that one cannot screw up a smartphone that much.
I'm not saying that a computer is a bad idea, but that it might not be the best tool at this time.
posted by k8t at 8:50 AM on February 24, 2016

Response by poster: Hi everyone! Thanks for the tips.

Good idea about looking into the netbook again, especially since I could just pair it with an external monitor and keyboard.

My budget is under $50, and I won't be providing ongoing support. The government has a program in the works to give every family a computer, and teach them how to use it. We're really just giving our family a head start because we don't know when the computer program will be launched.

And they do have a smartphone that they can use. I think the desktop is mostly a frill so they can use Facebook more comfortably at home and listen to music.
posted by lukez at 9:17 AM on February 24, 2016

I only know a little Arabic, but I found this video which goes through how to change the computer's language to Arabic (with Arabic text instructions) on a Windows computer. (In case somehow the changes revert in the future.)

I tried googling for basic desktop computing how-tos and found this website which provides youtube video lessons to prepare for the ICDL (which appears to be a test of basic desktop computing skills). This video talks about the Windows OS and there is at least a small part about passwords. There is a lot of info there, but if they are very very new to computers, and since you won't be around to provide further support, it might be useful.

Most of my search results were for Windows Computers, so I would suggest installing Windows. I think it would be challenging to find appropriate instruction and resources revolving around Ubuntu for someone (possibly) new to computers in English, so I imagine it would be at least as challenging in Arabic.

(Also here is the Windows Support site in Arabic.)

Hope this helps a little!
posted by sevenofspades at 11:20 AM on February 24, 2016

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