Dublin Sisters Make Wheelchairs Stylish

As reported in CBS News, sisters Izzy and Ailbhe Keane were graced to be born with a natural partner in crime. Their creative flair and eye for style came naturally. They spent early years playing dress up together and decorating Izzy’s wheel chair for special occasions. She was born with spina bifida.

Spina Bifida

Spina bifida, literally cleft spine, is rare disease that happens when the neural tube does not fully develop during embryonic development. This means part of the spinal cord is left exposed, permanently damaging the nerves and causing varied types of paralysis in the lower half of the body. While patients’ experience’s vary vastly, symptoms include a characteristic sac on the back due to the spinal canal’s profusion, paralysis, difficulty walking, lack of bladder control, intellectual disability, and seizures.

Art School Projects

Ailbhe’s creative streak didn’t stop there. When she enter university, she went to Ireland’s premier art school, The National College of Art and Design in Dublin. When given freedom to design her own project, she had her sister in mind.
For her final project, Ailbhe decided to dedicate her time to her sister and an idea from youth- wheelchairs with a flair.
The sisters didn’t know that their collaboration was about to take off, becoming a viral sensation. According to CBS News, Ailbhe said,
“It just went totally viral and we started getting messages from artists and designers from all over the world, who wanted to create wheels for our project.”

Izzy Wheels

Thus began her first company, Izzy Wheels. A company that makes wheel chairs in style, creating designer covers and funky designs for the wheels. Since the company started in 2016, the wheels have made their way around the globe. Now, Ailbhe hires 20 artists a year to work with Izzy as her brand ambassador.
By decorating the wheelchair like they did for Izzy as a kid, the expression of the wheelchair is received in a more natural and friendly way. Ailbhe explained to CBS,
“It really just changed how people interact with Izzy. So, rather than her wheelchair being something that people might be nervous about…it immediately turns the wheelchair from something like a medical device into a friendly object.”
 
The two sisters are a pair to be watched. Both were recognized in Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2018, a homage to their creative success. The company has been in The Oprah MagazineVogue, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and TechCrunch.
Their branding has inspired others to  follow in making wheelchairs in style. Since their success, the company has created partnerships with Mattell and Barbies to create matching miniature wheelchair covers.  Having dolls with disabilities is novel, something missing from their childhood. Ailbhe said to CBS,
“That’s something that Izzy never had growing up, was a toy that she felt represented her. The sooner we can educate kids about disabilities, just the more normal it becomes. And it becomes less intimidating.”

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