'If you can’t stand up, stand out!' - College project turned business spins out customised wheelchairs

Isabel Keane, who has spina bifida, in her 'Izzy Wheels' customised wheelchair, designed by her sister, Ailbhe.

What started out as a final-year college project has developed into a fully-fledged business.

‘If you can’t stand up, stand out!’ is the tagline behind Izzy Wheels — a new wheelchair style designed by Ailbhe Keane and inspired by her sister Isabel.

After undertaking a college brief asking her to empower the lives of people living with long-term lifestyle related health conditions, Ailbhe immediately thought of her younger sister, Isabel.

Born with spina bifida, Isabel is paralysed from her waist down, and uses a wheelchair.

Growing up, it frustrated Isabel how few options were available to her to customise her wheelchair so, when the opportunity arose through the form of a college assignment, her sister Ailbhe set about designing a range of customisable spoke-guards for Isabel’s wheelchair.

She named the brand Izzy Wheels and adopted the tagline, ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out!’

“With the skills I had, I wanted to create something to make her feel more confident about her wheelchair so I created a range of customisable spoke-guards for the wheelchair which come in a range of different patterns and colours to match her outfits,” Ailbhe explains.

Izzy Wheels, she said, allows people with disabilities to express themselves in a unique way. The spoke-guards come in a range of patterns and colours and are easily attached and swapped to suit different occasions.

According to Isabel, the snazzy wheels have made her feel “100% more confident”.

There are approximately 40,000 wheelchair users in Ireland and Isabel says her aim with her wheelchair has always been to portray it as a “positive thing rather than a negative thing” and “give it the element of respect it deserves”.

She believes the customised wheels have helped her achieve that.

Ailbhe says she never anticipated her business would take off the way it has.

“I saw the impact it had on Isabel and what it did for her confidence and I thought I’d really like to make something like this available for other wheelchair users like her.”

Awarded first-class honours when she graduated from NCAD this year, Ailbhe’s company has also been nominated for two awards by the Institute of Designers Ireland.

See www.izzywheels.com


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