Halli Aims to “Ramp Up” Europe – Beginning in Paris

Entrepreneur Haraldur Ingi Þorleifsson plans to build wheelchair ramps across Europe – beginning in Paris. According to a Tweet yesterday, the effort will begin with a joint project between the City of Reykjavík and the City of Paris.

A joint project between Reykjavík and Paris

Entrepreneur Haraldur Ingi Þorleifsson, known as Halli, posted a picture on Twitter yesterday in which he was shown attending a meeting with Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, Deputy Mayor of Paris Lamia El Araaje, and Mayor of Reykjavík Dagur B. Eggertsson. Beneath the picture, Halli wrote: “This may seem a bit wild but: We’re going to ramp up Europe!”

As suggested in his post, the effort to “ramp up Europe” – i.e. the building of wheelchair ramps to improve accessibility on the continent – will begin with a joint project between the City of Reykjavík and the City of Paris. As noted by RÚV, Halli and his collaborators have already built 500 ramps in Iceland through his Ramp Up Iceland project; the goal is to build 1,600 ramps in Iceland by spring 2026.

Read More: Staff writer Erik Pomremnke sat down with Halli earlier this year and discussed the selling of his company Ueno to Twitter; his Ramp Up Reykjavík project; among many other things.

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.”