Wheelchair Ramp Number 1,100 Installed

As part of the project Ramp Up Iceland, a wheelchair ramp was installed at the Vogar community and sports centre on Friday. This was ramp number 1,100 provided in Iceland as part of the project, with the goal set for 1,500 ramps ahead of 11 March next year, Mbl.is reports.

Four year effort

The project was started by entrepreneur Haraldur Þorleifsson with the goal of increasing accessibility for people with disabilities. The first ramp was installed in May 2021 with the original target of providing 1,000 ramps, but the number was amended to 1,500 ramps. The project is financed by private donations.

Hopes for the future

The ramp in Vogar, a municipality on the Reykjanes peninsula, was presented at a ceremony on Friday where local Eggert N. Bjarnason cut the ribbon. Gunnar Axel Axelsson, mayor of Vogar, said that he welcomed this initiative.

“In Vogar, we of course want to ensure equal access to our institutions and the services that the residence have on offer, so we welcome the encouragement and support of the Ramp Up Iceland project,” Gunnar Axel said. “Hopefully we’ll see the day where access for people with disabilities will be such a standard and ubiquitous feature that we’ll no longer need such efforts and I think Ramp Up Iceland has quickly gotten us closer to that goal.”

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President Raises Goal to 1,500 Ramps

ramps downtown Reykjavík

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson raised the target goal of Ramp Up Iceland at a press event for the organisation this Monday, November 21, from 1,000 new ramps to 1,500.

The president “heckled” Ramp Up founder Haraldur Þorleifsson, interrupting his presentation by spray-painting over the poster with his new, more ambitious goal. 

Ramp Up Iceland is an initiative which aims to increase accessibility to people in wheelchairs throughout Iceland. Ramp Up coordinates between businesses, contractors, and state and city authorities to make applying for permits and grants easier. Ramp Up originally had a goal of 1,000 handicap-accessible ramps in Iceland by 2026, but this goal has now been raised to 1,500.

Haraldur Þorleifsson, a Twitter employee, is notable as one of Iceland’s highest taxpayers. The founder of the Ramp Up initiative, he has used his income from the sale of his company Ueno to Twitter to fund this philanthropic project, among other things. Haraldur is also noteworthy as an outspoken proponent of Iceland’s social system, choosing to pay income instead of capital gains tax on the Ueno sale, citing the many advantages he has received through his Icelandic education and healthcare.

The Ramp Up press event took place in Mjódd, a bus station, in celebration of the 300th ramp built under the initiative.

During the event, the president asked if 1,000 ramps would be enough, and interrupted Haraldur to spraypaint over his previous goal.

In response, Haraldur stated: “Guðni is of course the president, so when he says something, we have to listen.” He continued: “We all live in a community together, and when people need help, then we all have a responsibility to help out. I am just happy to be able to contribute.”

Many businesses and public places throughout Iceland remain inaccessible to people in wheelchairs, especially older buildings. Haraldur has, however, stated that the overall reaction to his initiative has been very positive.

Reykjavík Ramps Up

In March of this year, a project called Ramp Up Reykjavík launched with the intention of helping local businesses install wheelchair ramps to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. Per an press release on the City of Reykjavík website, the organization not only met its initial goal of installing 100 ramps around the capital four months ahead of schedule, it also has a surplus of funds—ISK 15 million [$115,517; €99,876], to be exact—which will be placed in an Access Fund to assist in funding additional ramp access.

Ramp Up Reykjavík is a collaborative venture undertaken by local businesses, labour unions, government ministries, associations, banks, and city officials. It was launched by entrepreneur Haraldur Ingi Þorleifsson after finding himself stuck outside downtown shops and restaurants on numerous occasions. He recalls a recent summer night during which he had to sit outside a shop while his family all went inside because there was only one step at the entrance and it was too tall for his wheelchair to go over.

“That wasn’t the first step,” he writes. “I’ve sat outside before and often. I’ve not gone to coffeehouses because of that step. I’ve not met friends out. I’ve not gone downtown on Þorláksmessa with my family. All because of that step.”

Haraldur isn’t the only person in his position, he continues, noting that thousands of Icelanders use wheelchairs, and thousands of tourists, too. This is what inspired him to start Ramp Up Reykjavík, soliciting donations to fund 100 ramps to start with. Under the terms of the funding, restaurant owners can be reimbursed for up to 80% of the cost of installing a wheelchair ramp on their premises.

“It’s amazing how easy it actually was,” Haraldur says. “All the founding members, planning authorities, restaurants, and shops in the area really pushed the boat out to get the ramps set up and we had a lot of support from the start.”

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson praised the project and said the city was prepared to continue funding for it. Ramp Up Reykjavík will continue to improve access around the capital but is also set to move further afield. Akureyri mayor Ásthildur Sturludóttir said she’d support the project in her town and both Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Minister for Social Affairs and children Ásmundur Einar Daðason said that they’d support the initiative in the countryside, having seen how successful it’s already been in the capital.

Ramping Up Reykjavík Ahead of Schedule

ramps downtown Reykjavík

A project to install 100 ramps in Reykjavík to make the city more accessible will be completed four months ahead of schedule, its instigator Haraldur Þorleifsson announced. While Haraldur says the Reykjavík ramps will be completed by the end of October, the group’s next step will be to install 1,000 ramps across Iceland in collaboration with local municipalities.

Haraldur is the founder of design company Ueno and now works at Twitter, which recently purchased Ueno. Haraldur is a wheelchair user himself and recently moved back to Iceland from San Francisco. Though he says there have been many changes to Reykjavík’s downtown since he last lived in Iceland, he noticed that accessibility was lacking. He established a fund to help businesses install ramps and donated ISK 50 million [$385,000, €319,000] to the project. The City of Reykjavík later matched his donation.

Ramping up Iceland will aim to install 250 ramps per year around the country over the next four years, Haraldur told Vísir. The next step is to reach out to municipal authorities and ask whether they want to take part. “Hopefully there will be interest across the board and if everyone wants to take part then we can get started,” he stated. “Of course it’s a little bit easier to work in bigger municipalities but it is very important that this be spread across the country.”

Entrepreneur Starts Accessibility Renovation Fund for Reykjavík Businesses

A new accessibility fund will provide financial support to Reykjavík businesses who want to increase the accessibility of their establishments. The fund was spearheaded by entrepreneur Haraldur Þorleifsson in collaboration with city authorities. Founder of design company Ueno, which was recently purchased by Twitter, Haraldur is a wheelchair user himself and recently moved home to Iceland from San Francisco.

Though Haraldur says he’s noticed many fun changes in Reykjavík’s downtown over the past few years, accessibility is lacking. “It happens very often that some meeting, celebration, ceremony, or simply a place I want to go to is not accessible. Of course, it sucks every single time, but what happens over a long period of time is that people become isolated. They start to pull themselves out of things of their own accord, even though they are maybe accessible, because they get a bit socially anxious or anxious that some problem might come up,” he told Vísir.

Covers Up to 80% of Renovation Costs

Even if they desire to increase accessibility at their establishment, the cost of renovations is prohibitive for many small businesses, states Haraldur. Last summer, he spoke to Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson and suggested the idea of a fund that would help businesses cover such costs. The idea was approved by Reykjavík City Council last Thursday.

The fund will focus on businesses in the city centre to start with and will pay up to 80% of the costs associated with installing ramps or other accessibility features. In addition to financial support, the initiative is intended to connect business owners with experienced contractors as well as streamline the process of obtaining licences for accessibility-related renovations.

Haraldur not only spearheaded the establishment of the fund, but he has also donated ISK 50 million ($385,000/€319,000) to the initiative. The City of Reykjavík has matched his donation, and other companies are organisations have also expressed interest in donating to the fund.

“Ueno has been very successful since I founded it and we’ve invested between ISK 10 and 15 million in good causes,” Haraldur stated. “I’m just going to try to keep it up and do better.”

Private Bathing and Changing Facilities Coming Soon to Reykjavík Pools

sundhöll

Private changing and bathing stalls will soon be installed at all pools in Reykjavík to better serve those pool visitors who cannot or do not wish to change or bathe in front of other people, RÚV reports. There are currently shower stalls with privacy curtains and private changing lockers in all of the city’s pools.

“The private rooms are naturally intended for people with disabilities, for those who need assistance, and also for those who want to be private and maybe come from cultures in which they don’t want to be naked amongst other people,” says Steinþór Einarsson, the City of Reykjavík’s office manager in the Department of Sports and Recreation. The private facilities are also intended to cater to individuals whose religious beliefs may require more modest or private changing areas.

Pool employees have been instructed now on how to introduce Iceland’s pool culture and bathing rules to those who are visiting for the first time. “We give them a little brochure which has all the information in it – how you’re supposed to comport yourself.” But while concessions are being made, perhaps, to pool visitors’ varying accessibility requirements, restrictions, and levels of comfort with public showers, Steinþór says that ultimately, the bathing rules must be adhered to.

“These are our rules…and of course, all Icelandic guests that come to the pool must never let it slide if someone isn’t following the rules. In reality, everyone must act as bathing monitors, as pool monitors.”