The Irish sisters challenging negative wheelchair attitudes with art
Izzy and Ailbhe Keane are two sisters from Galway who are hoping to challenge negative attitudes towards wheelchairs, by creating stunning artwork for wheelchair spoke guards.
What started off as a college project for older sister Ailbhe has since become the sisters’ passion. Ailbhe was studying Visual Communication and was tasked with creating something that would benefit someone with a long-term condition.
Younger sister Izzy has Spina Bifida and used to love decorating her wheelchair for special occasions. This got Ailbhe thinking, and after Izzy fell in love with the final product Ailbhe created for the class, the two decided to create more designs and Izzy Wheels was born.
"I wanted Izzy to feel more confident in her wheelchair, it's the first thing that people notice about her and it doesn't reflect her personality at all," says Ailbhe.
"We're on a mission to make people with disabilities stand out for all the right reasons.”
Ailbhe soon created an Instagram account where she could post her designs and it immediately took off with a variety of wheelchair and stair lift users. “I got emails from parents around the world inquiring where they could get their hands on these spoke guards.
"It seemed like such an obvious idea but one that had been overlooked. The only other spoke guards available were designed by hospitals and not with care and love. They were also hugely expensive and permanent fixtures. Our idea was to create more affordable ones that you could swap and change."
The girls soon decided to set up a website which went live in September 2018 and their success has grown. They’ve been given €15,000 backing from Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers Development programme, and Izzy herself has won several awards including the Accenture’s Leaders of Tomorrow Award. Instagram Headquarters even got in touch with the girls to see if they wanted to take over their Instagram story for 24 hours, tripling their followers in just one day.
Since their official launch last September, Izzy Wheels has released two collections with some of the proceeds going to the Irish Wheelchair Association and Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Ireland. The third collection is on the way, and the two are also looking at releasing wheelchair friendly accessories like bags, umbrellas, cuffs and more.