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Meet the man who is making Iceland wheelchair accessible one ramp at a time

Haraldur Thorleifsson was inspired to start this initiative after he had to wait outside a store while his family shopped inside.

Meet the man who is making Iceland wheelchair accessible one ramp at a time
Cover Image Source: Twitter | @IAMHARALDUR

Haraldur Thorleifsson, a former senior director of product design at Twitter, came to the limelight after he tweeted to Elon Musk on March 5 to enquire about his employment status. After a series of tweets in which the CEO accused Thorleiffsson of exaggerating his disability and not doing any work for the company, Musk apologized for his comments and called it a "miscommunication."

However, in Iceland, Thorleifsson is known for different reasons. According to My Modern Met, Thorleifsson had to start using a wheelchair at the age of 25 due to a genetic muscular dystrophy disease called dysferlinopathy.

He, like many others, found it hard to access many public places with his wheelchair. In 2021, when his company, Ueono, was acquired by Twitter, he started a project called Ramp Up Reykjavik. In a matter of just eight months, he rallied sponsors, workers and the city to build 100 wheelchair ramps in the city center. 


Thorleifsson was inspired to start this initiative after a day out with his family when he had to wait outside a store while his wife and two children shopped 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 wrote. "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."

The good news is that his project has already made Reykjavik far more accessible than it has ever been. "There are thousands of people in Iceland who use wheelchairs. Thousands of tourists too. People who don't get to be with or participate in life because of this step," Thorleifsson added. He looks forward to creating the same sort of accessibility in other parts of Iceland by constructing 1500 more ramps across the country by 2026.


That's not all. Thorleifsson has won multiple Person of the Year Awards from different media outlets like RÚV, Morgunblaðið and Vísir, according to Iceland Review. Born in 1977, Thorleiffson studied at the University of Iceland, where he completed a Bachelor of Science in Finance and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy.

Before selling off Ueno to Twitter, he worked on design projects for numerous big companies, such as Facebook, Apple, Airbnb, Google, Venmo, Uber and Walmart, reports The US Sun.

When he sold off his company in 2021, he wanted to be paid the deal price as a salary because this way, he could pay more taxes to contribute to public services. By taking it as a salary, he opted to pay a 46% income tax rate, according to CNBC


After this, Thorleiffson started to work for Twitter. He stated on his website about the work he did: "I led an innovation team that among others spearheaded Communities on the platform as well as the long-awaited (and finally launched) edit button." Thorleifsson is now in the process of opening a restaurant named after his mother in downtown Reykjavik.



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