The idea was born in a wheelchair

Haraldur Þorleifsson in front of the group but behind him …

Haraldur Þorleifsson in front of the group but behind him are Dagur B. Eggertsson mayor of Reykjavík, Katrín Jakobsdóttir the Prime Minister, Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson Minister of Infrastructure and Friðrik Sigurbjörnsson, the representative of Hveragerði in the initiative. Photo/Sent to mbl.is

“We started this project six months ago and the goal was to set up 250 ramps every year. This year we have exceeded that goal and have already put up 300 ramps,” says Haraldur Þorleifsson, the founder of the initiative “Ramp up Iceland” which was started to make access easier for citizens in wheelchairs.

"Ramp up Iceland" 50 ramps over the goal

Þorleifsson is himself in a wheelchair because he has a rare muscular dystrophy. He had lived abroad for years and started to focus on improving access for all citizens when he came back to Iceland.

“We are 50 ramps over the goal,” he says. The initiative has been going much better than they thought and the 300 th ramp was revealed in a ceremony yesterday in Mjódd.

Haraldur Þorleifsson and his wife Margrét Rut Eddudóttir and Katrín …

Haraldur Þorleifsson and his wife Margrét Rut Eddudóttir and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Prime Minister and the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. mbl.is/Eggert Jóhannesson

“Mjódd is a very important area for people who live nearby, because it is the hub for services in the area, with a lot of stores and people come there to have fun, shop and do a lot of things,” says Þorleifsson. He says that the people behind “Ramp up Iceland” are really proud of their success.

How does this work?

“We have applications on the website Rampur.is but to really get this going we often have to talkto people svo we are looking at specific areas, with people who live in those areas or in towns in the countryside. Then we go to the area and estimate where the need for better access is. Then we talk to owners, get blueprints and bring a team that makes sure that all permits are in order and then we build the ramp free of charge,” Þorleifsson explains.

- Free of charge?

“Yes, for the person in question. We get funding from private donors like myself and then from companies like Össur . BM Vallá has also been helping and then municipalities and the government has helped us as well.”

Aron Freyr Jónsson opens a new ramp in Eyrarbakki in …

Aron Freyr Jónsson opens a new ramp in Eyrarbakki in an opening ceremony. Photo/Sent to mbl.is

Social isolation

Þorleifsson tells the story of how the initiative started. “I went downtown with my family one summer evening two years ago. We stopped in front of a store because my five year old son was thirsty and there were steps up to the store. For the next five minutes while I was sitting outside the store while my family entered the store I was thinking about all the times I have been sitting outside while they have entered stores or service providers,” he says.

Decided to do something about it

Then on December 23 rd it became glaringly obvious to him how many experiences people in a wheelchair miss because they cannot enter buildings. “This is a certain kind of social isolation and then I just thought that this was a problem that needed to be solved. I talked to city officials and sponsors and we started the initiative, first in Reykjavík, where we built the first 100 ramps and now we have decidedto build the next thousand ramps all over the country.”

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