‘If you can’t stand up, stand out!’. As startup taglines go, the seven words chosen by Izzy Wheels carry a lot more meaning than most. The Irish company, founded by siblings Ailbhe and Isabel Keane, sells a range of custom wheelchair wheels spoke guards created by independent designers and illustrators that turn a wheelchair into a fashion statement. Or, better still, a form of self-expression.
For those of us who use a wheelchair, and whether we like it not, it is a part of who we are: visually, practically and psychologically. At its core, it is a source of liberation. And yet a wheelchair is rarely seen as a symbol of independence.
Because of the emotions it elicits in others, and the way they are marketed as medical devices, a wheelchair often carries quite negative connotations, which, when you pause to think about it — as this story has forced me to do — makes absolutely no sense at all. Izzy Wheels is unapologetically challenging this.
“Izzy Wheels are so important to me because they draw such positive attention to myself and my wheelchair,” says Isabel Keane, Izzy Wheels’ Brand Ambassador. “I am no longer seen as ‘the poor unfortunate girl in a wheelchair’ by passers-by. I am now seen as a stylish person with cool wheels. They really reflect the relationship I have with my wheelchair… Wheelchairs help, they do not hinder a person and now they do not hinder a person’s fashion choices”.
The notion that a wheelchair could be a “fashion choice” (or, perhaps, even that a person who uses a wheelchair can be stylish in the first place) is a refreshing attack on conventional thinking, but there’s a smartly seized business opportunity too.
A number of traditional wheelchair companies already sell colourful wheelchair spoke guards. However, these tend to be targeted at small children, prohibitively expensive and are not designed to be interchangeable. In contrast, Izzy Wheels spoke guards start from €99 and are attached by velcro straps so that they can be swapped out as and when your outfit demands. It’s as far removed from a medical device as can be.
Read more: Izzy Wheels turns your wheelchair into a fashion statement