​Chief Program and Policy Officer: Regina Blye

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on March 31, 2022 # News, Commitment

Regina BlyeOn her 45th birthday, Regina Blye gave herself the gift of a new challenge.

Before sustaining a spinal cord injury at the age of 10, basketball was her passion. But Blye hadn’t played on a sports team since and missed the camaraderie.

She called up a wheelchair rugby team and—after becoming its only female member–spent an exhilarating 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.”

Blye will now channel the same determination that sent her crashing joyfully down the rugby pitch into her work as the new Chief Program and Policy Officer at the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

“I can’t see any organization that has the type of experience and skill and is capable of doing what the Reeve Foundation does,” she says. “It is my honor and privilege to be working here.”

Blye brings over two decades of disability policy and advocacy experience to Reeve. For the past five years, she led the Independent Living Services program at the Administration for Community Living, monitoring compliance with the Rehabilitation Act and overseeing 155 federal grantees. Before that, as executive director of the Texas State Independent Living Council, she grew a one-person operation to 17 employees, 30 volunteers and a $2 million budget that expanded independent living initiatives across the state.

Her work has affected thousands of individuals and families living with disabilities and was recognized by President Barack Obama with a 2011 appointment to the United States Access Board.

Blye’s new role at the National Paralysis Resource Center gives her the chance to work more directly with community members.

“After 35 years of living with a spinal cord injury, I wanted to focus on the most important part of who I am,” she says. “I wanted to work specifically with people with spinal cord injuries and paralysis.”

Blye sustained a C6-C7 spinal cord injury in 1988 when she was shot through the neck at an end-of-school-year slumber party. She was airlifted from her small hometown of Brownfield, Texas, to a larger hospital in Lubbock, but the severity of the injury was too much for the 10-year-old to absorb.

“I thought I was going to recover and go to a basketball tournament in a couple of weeks,” she says. When a doctor overheard her asking a nurse why she could only move her head from side to side, he casually told her she was paralyzed and would no longer “be able to do anything.”

“That turned my life upside down,” she says.

Despite the grim prognosis, Blye regained movement in her arms and returned home, where her mother became her caregiver. The Americans with Disabilities Act had not yet become law, and there was no internet or National Paralysis Resource Center to provide a way forward; the challenges were many.

“My mom didn’t know where or how to look for resources or services,” Blye says. “It was truly a family on a rural island trying to figure out how to get things for this little girl to help her live her best life.”

Blye learned to speak up for herself, beginning when school administrators suggested home schooling because it would be “too hard” to move classes from the building’s second floor to accommodate her. She objected, and the school made the changes.

“Lo and behold, I didn’t know I was being an advocate for myself at that young age, but I was,” she says.

A pep talk from her stepfather helped guide her when she returned to class.

“He said, ‘Kiddo, you’re not going to be walking around, so you have to use your brains to be your arms and your legs,’” she says. “’ You’ve got to use your smarts.’ That really helped me.”

Blye dove into honors classes and excelled. But even with support from family and friends, people could be cruel. In high school, one classmate told her she would never amount to anything as a black woman with a spinal cord injury.

“Those three things, my visual existence, was what he said would prevent me from being successful,” she says. “Eventually, I used that to motivate myself to say that’s what is going to make me stand out and be different from everyone else.”

At West Texas A&M University, Blye connected with other students with disabilities and began to embrace opportunities to be center stage, whether singing in the choir or 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.”

Blye’s pivot toward the independent living movement began when she competed in Ms. Wheelchair Texas in 2002. She captured the crown and spent the next year advocating for accessible and affordable housing around the state. Not long after, she joined Life/Run Center for Independent Living in Lubbock as a relocation and transition specialist.

“Helping make sure people got what they needed was the most rewarding piece for me,” she says.

Working with Reeve, she says, is the chance to return to that kind of individualized impact and provide the critical services and resources that help people build healthy, independent lives.

“Without knowing what is out there, people can get stuck,” she says. “And it will dim their light. Sometimes having the right person walk in your space at the right time can make a difference. I think that’s what the Foundation does, and I want to be part of that.”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.