By Rachel Williams
The 17-year-old from the Coffs coast in northern NSW uses a wheelchair after being born with quadriplegia cerebral palsy. But, with the help of technology, the self-confessed “tech head” has taken control of his own destiny and will quite possibly change the future for many other people living with similar conditions.
“During my life I have had to overcome many obstacles due to my physical disability,” explains Riley, with the help of his computerised speaking device.
“I am lucky enough to be surrounded by an amazing support network of family and friends who always found a way for inclusion.
“I consider myself to be a tech head and love nothing more than spending time on my computers and phone.
“For someone living with a disability, your life can somewhat revolve around technology. Without my equipment and my devices I wouldn’t and couldn’t be doing the things I do today.”
Riley is the eldest of four children. He has a brother, Chase, 16, a sister Paige, 11, and his baby sister, Nyah, 4 months.
His dad, Clint, and mum, Casey, have always supported him to take part in everyday activities with the family.
“Ever since he was young, we’ve always gone through the process of making and altering equipment for Riley to make activities accessible,” Clint recalls.
“We found that if Riley wasn’t able todo it, most often our family wouldn’t take part in that activity. We always wanted to do it as a family and I think that’s really important.”
Riley believes in and promotes the message that “with the right tools you can achieve anything” and he is acutely aware of the latest innovative products available.
“For me personally, I am always waiting for the next ‘big thing’. That piece of equipment, which will simply enable or compliment the skills I already possess,” Riley says.
“I am in awe of the brilliant minds which design and create meaningful technology and those who think outside the box. The likes of Elon Musk, who seem to problem solve from all angles and the entrepreneurs creating technology with the aim of improving lives. “During recent years I have been extremely fortunate to experience first-hand the process of technology development. In 2016 I was lucky enough to feature in a two-part series on ABC Catalyst called Becoming Superhuman, where I drove a buggy through an obstacle course using nothing but my eye movements.”
Riley is literally making waves nationally with his latest project named PolySpine – a back brace invention that attaches to a vest to reinforce and support the spine, torso and neck. The product allows the user to sit upright and be securely attached to various recreational and exercise equipment, including paddle boards, floor seats and trikes.
The concept was so successful for Riley personally that he and his dad have created a business to promote their PolySpine product.
“The concept of PolySpine was born from our desire for a single piece of equipment that could be used to provide head and core body support in all types of inclusive activities,” Riley explains.
“The result is a modular trunk and head support brace which can be customised to follow the front to back curve of the spine. It is also adjustable in both length and width which allows for growth.
“In 2019 we both took part in a 16-week disability accelerator program called Remarkable. PolySpine was one of seven start-ups in Australia chosen to participate and receive mentoring and master classes on how to bring their product to market.
“We have big plans for PolySpine and are currently in the process of developing a wide range of attachments which will allow some individuals to try new experiences for the very first time.
“Some of my personal favourites include paddle boarding, independent swimming and a beach wheelchair attachment, which featured on ABC 7:30 Report last year.”
Riley and his team are working closely with the University of Technology Sydney and an independent design company to test and fine-tune the product.
“With the use of this system, we wish to empower and encourage people like myself from all over the world, to be more active outside of their wheelchairs,” Riley says.
Clint and Riley have taken out a global patent on the design and while they’re excited about its future prospects, they say the start-up business journey has been a challenge.
“The medical technology industry can be difficult at times to navigate, when it comes to regulations and standards that need to be met,” Clint says.
This is not the first foray into the world of business for Riley, who still attends mainstream school as a year 11 student at Woolgoolga High School.
He has been a technology researcher for Psykinetic – a social business that creates inclusive and empowering technologies for people with disability.
“I have been involved in creating and presenting numerous presentations about the accessibility features available on Window and Apple devices with my co- partner Gai Cross,” Riley says.
“These small workshops have led to us being involved with Department of Education and presenting to a room of hundreds of special Ed teachers from all over the state. Here we focused on the importance of knowing your device and the accessibility features available.” Riley was last year named the ‘Young Leader of the Year’ at the Third Sector awards, an annual occasion for celebrating and recognising best NFP practice around Australia. Third Sector partners with the Centre for Social Impact and a team of judges to score hundreds of entries from across the country. Judges were impressed with Riley’s desire to lead people with disabilities to an inclusive society, so they can achieve all their dreams and goals successfully.
Riley enjoys spending time with his new baby sister, travelling and sightseeing in big cities, loves playing pool and
going to the cinema with friends. But technology will always be his greatest passion.
“I look forward to seeing how the future of advanced technology improves the lives of people living with a disability,” Riley says.
Clint says he never doubted his son’s ability to change the world for the better.
“I couldn’t be prouder for all his achievements to date, his self- motivation and the person he has become.”