These Sisters are Transforming the World of Wheelchair Users With Art

Abilhe and Isabel bring happiness with their personalized wheelchair designs.

These Sisters are Transforming the World of Wheelchair Users With Art | Abilhe and Isabel bring happiness with their personalized wheelchair designs.

On the website of the EU Prize for Women Innovators, there are dozens of inspirational stories of female leaders alongside pictures of these professional-looking women wearing monochromatic business suits.

But scroll down on the page a little further, and Ailbhe and Isabel Keane’s pictures pop off the page, with their eye-catching neon colors and bright rainbow patterns! Which is entirely in line with their company ethos “If you can't stand up, stand out.”

This fashionable duo took home the Innovators Under 30 prize in 2021 after these entrepreneurial sisters took the world by storm with their personalized wheelchair decorations. 

As part of their mission to enliven the world of wheelchair users, the sisters have also begun collaborating with Disney to make wheelchairs decorated with recognizable characters. 

“Business partners” from birth reports. Ailbhe, now 25, was four years old when she became a big sister to Isabel (Izzy). Although Izzy was born with spina bifida, and couldn’t move from the waist down, her spunk and energy instantly bonded the two sisters into a lifelong friendship.

Izzy and Ailbhe spent hours as children decorating Izzy’s wheelchairs and her other mobility devices. 

So, when Ailbhe graduated from the National College of Art and Design and had to complete a final year project, she knew just what to choose- vibrant and personalized fashion meant to dress up a wheelchair's wheels!

Ailbhe thought, “"I looked closely at Izzy's chair…the wheelchair itself just didn't reflect [her] ethos, or her vibrant personality. It was mechanical, boring and intimidating. I thought there might be a way of bridging that gap."

Launching Izzy Wheels
Ailbhe’s project was extremely well received at her school’s design show. Izzy loved the new wheels as well.

Enterprise Ireland, a state agency supporting Irish enterprises in world markets,  was impressed too. They helped the Keane sisters partner with fashion designers and get their business jumpstarted. And the business took off much more quickly than the Keanes could have dreamed. 

A few years after launch, Izzy Wheels were already available in 35 countries! The sisters made the Forbes 30 under 30 list and won 10 awards.

Collaborations with Gucci and Disney have followed
The next step  for the Keane sisters, after going global with Izzy Wheels, was partnering with big companies who were interested in representing people with disabilities.

According to Silicon Republic, after sealing a deal with Gucci, the sister’s turned to Disney. After all, this collaboration would involve one of their favorite activities- watching dozens of their favorite Disney movies!

Disney allowed the Keane sisters royalty-free access to all its trademarked characters, reported The Walt Disney website.

Not only that, but Disney promised to donate 10% of profits from Disney-themed wheel cover sales to WhizzKids, a charity that helps children with disabilities.

In addition, the company known for magic, wishes and dreams, pledged to grant the wishes and dreams of children with disabilities, providing them with fan favorite characters themed wheel covers through the Make a Wish Foundation.

Isabel is thrilled for the chance to make life in a wheelchair more fashionable, fun and personalized, and less clinical.

She summed up her thoughts “As a wheelchair user, you get used to people feeling sorry for you. But as soon as I put on the wheel covers, they would engage with me. And that's when I could convey my message of positivity and the fact that I don't want my disability defining who I am, in any way."

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