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Icelandic entrepreneur Haraldur Thorleifsson—known as simply Halli—has recently been in the news because of a dramatic online exchange with Elon Musk. It started when Thorleifsson, who was recently employed at Twitter, couldn't access his work computer. Was he laid off? After nine days of no answer about whether or not he was still employed, Thorleifsson tweeted at Musk to ask him. What resulted was a Twitter dialogue in which Thorleifsson, the former senior director of product design at Twitter was accused of not performing his job. It is unclear how much of the situation has been resolved. And while this debacle has resurfaced Thorleifsson's name, it does not highlight all of the work he has done for increasing wheelchair access in his home country.
From the age of 25, Thorleifsson was forced to use a wheelchair due to a genetic muscular dystrophy disease called dysferlinopathy. He, like thousands of others in Iceland, was forced to traverse urban planning that was not designed with accessibility in mind. Then, after his technology services company Ueno was acquired by Twitter in 2021, Thorleifsson launched a project called Ramp Up Reykjavík. Within eight months, the fund worked with sponsors, workers, and the city to build 100 wheelchair ramps, with the promise of constructing 1,500 more ramps in Iceland by 2026.
The inspiration for this initiative came after Thorleifsson was shopping with his wife and two children in the Icelandic capital, and was forced to wait outside a store while his family went inside. “I immediately saw that there were stairs. Just one but it was quite tall. Too tall for me to get it on the wheelchair,” he says. “For the next five minutes, I sat alone outside the shop while they went inside. I sat and looked at this step. That one step that separated me from my family.”
This project has already changed the landscape of Reykjavík, making it far more accessible than it has ever been. “There are thousands of people in Iceland who use wheelchairs. Thousands of tourists too,” Thorleifsson adds. In time, the project hopes to bring the same level of accessibility to other areas of Iceland, which will forever change the lives of many individuals also living with disabilities.
After entrepreneur Haraldur Thorleifsson sold his company to Twitter he used his money to help increase wheelchair accessibility in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Today we opened our 200th ramp this year. Which brings us over 300 in total.
Each ramp opens up a new place where people who use wheelchairs can come in for the first time and participate in every day life. pic.twitter.com/SdErbd1Jie
— Halli (@iamharaldur) October 15, 2022
Thorleifsson launched a project called Ramp Up Reykjavík.
We just finished our last ramp of the year.
The ambitious plan was to have 250 done by March 2023.
Today @rampur built ramp 341. With four months to spare.
Here are a few of the kids that cut our ribbons this year. pic.twitter.com/09mt21aFah
— Halli (@iamharaldur) December 13, 2022
Within eight months, the fund worked with sponsors, workers, and the city to build 100 wheelchair ramps.
„When you come to a place that services the community, and multiple people use, and then you can’t even get in, it feels like you’re not a part of society.”
— Halli (@iamharaldur) July 1, 2022
Yesterday we announced that @rampur was a proud partner in making the first fully accessible gas station in Iceland.
The ground was elevated so the pumps are within reach. All tabletops inside the station were lowered and the bathroom made accessible.
— Halli (@iamharaldur) January 11, 2023
The inspiration for this initiative came after Thorleifsson was shopping with his wife and two children and was forced to wait outside a store while his family went inside.
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Ramp Up Reykjavík is aiming to construct 1,500 more ramps in Iceland by 2026.
— Halli (@iamharaldur) January 1, 2023