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.”