Entrepreneur inspired by mission to make sister’s wheelchair look fashionable

By Laura Lynott

A young woman who wanted people to see beyond her teenage sister’s “mechanical” wheelchair and get to know the “bubbly” girl is now designing fashionable wheelchairs inspired by her best friend.

Ailbhe Keane, 23, from Galway, spotted her sister Izzy’s wheelchair didn’t fit with her “bright, bubbly personality,” so she set about making her special floral wheel covers to make her chair look more fashionable.

“I wanted people to see my sister, for who she is – this amazing, bubbly, wonderful person – and not to just see her wheelchair,” Ailbhe said.

“I didn’t want her chair to be this medical, negative thing – I wanted it to stand out and show her style.”

Inspired to add a dash of style to her beloved sister’s wheelchair Ailbhe, a talented designer, has created new inspiring wheel designs to make chair’s fashionable for Ireland’s disabled community.

The former design student from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, has now started up her own online business, Izzy Wheels – selling fashionable wheelchair covers across the country.

Ailbhe, who now lives in the Liberties, Dublin, said:  “I came up with the idea watching my sister and my best friend, Izzy, in her wheelchair.  Wheelchairs can look so ugly and mechanical, so medical.

“But I know how important the wheelchair is to Izzy and to other people with disabilities because without them they wouldn’t have freedom.

Isabel Keane modelling one of her sister Ailbhe's Izzy Wheels' covers
Isabel Keane modelling one of her sister Ailbhe’s Izzy Wheels’ covers

“So one day I just decided to do a little experiment and made her wheel covers with floral designs.  She loved them.  That’s where it all started.”

Ailbhe recently designed special silver and black wheelchair covers for Izzy’s debs ball matching her sparkly dress and in total she has created 15 sets of covers so her sister will have a change of fashion regularly.

“Able-bodied people like to change their style regularly and I didn’t see why Izzy and other people in wheelchairs couldn’t do the same,” she said.

The simple idea has already transformed wheelchair users’ lives across the country and soon Ailbhe will be stocking special festive designs for her Christmas market.

She was backed by Enterprise Ireland and now she is hoping that parents will come to her to make their kids’ wheelchairs fashionable too.

Galway NUIG first year student, Izzy, who has spina bifida – an incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord – has been in a wheelchair since she was a child.

Though Izzy had become accustomed to her chair – Ailbhe seems to have spoiled her for choice and she is now regularly changing looks to match her outfits for the day and night.

Log on to www.Izzywheels.com for more information.


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