By Southwester Staff
The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation recently announced the appointment of Southwest DC resident Regina Blye as the first Chief Program and Policy Officer of its National Paralysis Resource Center. In the new role, Blye will provide leadership and oversight of programs that include outreach to local residents about resources, engagement opportunities, and grants for organizations that work with individuals with paralysis.
Blye said that the new role is just another step on her “journey from a small country girl surviving a near life-ending event, to helping folks with disabilities across the country live independently in their community of choice.”
Blye’s work is focused on high system change to improve the quality of life for people living with disabilities, including fighting to remove the barriers to education, employment, healthcare, transportation, and housing to provide an equal opportunity for all.
Her work is drawn from personal experience. Blye was a 10-year old girl in Brownfield, Texas, with a passion for playing basketball, when she sustained a C6-C7 spinal cord injury following a shooting at an end-of-school-year slumber party.
“That turned my life upside down,” she said.
At the time of her injury, the Americans with Disabilities Act had not become law, and there were few resources and little access to information for her mother, who became her caregiver.
Blye refused to give up, and early on, she denied school administrator’s requests that she switch to homeschool rather than moving classes to the first floor classrooms she could access.
Blye credits her stepfather with telling her, “Kiddo, you’re not going to be walking around, so you have to use your brains to be your arms and your legs. You’ve got to use your smarts.”
Blye dove into honors classes and excelled, eventually enrolling at West Texas A&M University, where she connected with other students with disabilities and began to embrace opportunities like singing in the choir and debating. After graduating with a degree in communications, she landed a job as a morning news producer in Amarillo and became a D.J. at a local radio station, where she was known as “The Hostess with the Mostess.”
“It allowed me to use my voice to elevate the person that I was and also give people the opportunity to see someone with a disability doing things they didn’t expect,” she says. “Everyone was always so surprised to know the woman they listened to on the radio used a wheelchair.”
In 2002, Blye competed in Ms. Wheelchair Texas and began a career focused on supporting individuals and families living with disabilities, with a strong focus on independent living. Her efforts were recognized by President Barack Obama in 2011, when she was appointed to the United States Access Board and served as Vice-Chair.
On her 45th birthday, Blye decided it was time to regain the competitive spirit and love for team sports she felt as a child. She joined a wheelchair rugby team as the only female member, and spent a season competing in the local league.
“I highly recommend pursuing something that makes you feel nervous and uncomfortable,” she says. “It isn’t about trying to make the Olympics. It’s about accomplishing goals and doing things that challenge me.”
Portions of this article originally appeared on the website of The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research and improving the quality of life for individuals and families impacted by paralysis. Through a cooperative agreement with the Administration for Community Living, the Reeve Foundation’s National Paralysis Resource Center (NPRC) promotes the health, well-being, and independence of people living with paralysis, providing comprehensive information, resources, and referral services assisting over 100,000 individuals and families since its launch in 2002. For more information, please visit www.ChristopherReeve.org or call 800-225-0292.