She's watching out for others
Family: Parents, Marcia and Dan Reilly; sister, Nikki, 22
Hobbies: Reading "pretty much anything," especially mysteries, autobiographies and Nicholas Sparks novels; traveling; hanging out with friends; listening to music; singing
Education: Graduate of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, 2003; bachelor's degree in psychology with minors in music and Spanish from Carthage College, 2008. She hopes to attend the Colorado Center for the Blind and go on to graduate school in Wisconsin or Illinois
What motivates you? "I guess just trying to help blind people and help them to become as independent as they can, which kind of helps me to know that I can be independent. Doing all these events and activities just kind of helps all of us to realize what we can do."
Role models: Her parents; her cousin, Casey Langan; her friends, both blind and sighted
Fun facts: She was the first blind person to graduate from Carthage College and helped pave the way for several disabled people who have attended since. While there, she helped start the group Abled and Disabled Awareness Promotion Together (ADAPT).
She has sung "God Bless America" twice for the Wisconsin State Legislature.
Edgerton's Chelsea Reilly, blind from birth, is an advocate for others with the same disability. Reilly is featured as one of the Janesville Gazette's "People Who Matter". Kyle Geissler reports.
EDGERTON Chelsea Reilly voted in the fall election with a sense of satisfaction that had nothing to do with the outcome.
She knew her efforts helped thousands of disabled Wisconsin residents vote privately and independently that day.
Independence is a key word for Chelsea, 25. Blind since birth, she is determined to do everything her sighted peers do, even if she does it her own way.
She uses that determination to advocate for blind people by word and deed, said Dan Wenzel, director of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, where Chelsea went to school.
"She is a mentor to younger blind students, particularly younger teenage women who are blind," he said. "She leads by example."
Chelsea's life has been filled with adventure so far, from whitewater rafting to moving away for college to studying in Mexico.
She learned independence early, said her mother, Marcia Reilly.
"We try to push her to do more," Marcia said. "I'm not going to be here forever. She's got to do things on her own."
After high school, Chelsea found her voice as an advocate through the Wisconsin Association for Blind Students, a chapter of the National Federation for the Blind.
She travels to Washington, D.C., every year with a group of Wisconsin delegates to advocate for blind issues such as disability-accessible voting machines and more employment opportunities.
"This year, it was really neat to see in most areas, the polls have the voting machines," she said.
While attending Carthage College in Kenosha, she helped start an awareness group, Abled and Disabled Awareness Promotion Together, and participated in the first diversity conference for private Wisconsin colleges.
Yet for all her work, Chelsea isn't quite comfortable in the spotlight. She tends to fidget and giggle self-consciously when talking about herself.
"She is someone who is more of a behind-the-scenes person," Wenzel said. "She's not necessarily someone who is out front, and that's OK."
When Marcia mentioned that Chelsea is the first blind graduate from Carthage, Chelsea shrugged off the accomplishment.
"Everyone always brings that up," she said. "I'm just like, eh."
Chelsea's more excited to talk about her future. She plans to study at the Colorado Center for the Blind, where she will learn skills such as independent living and mobility, she said.
She'd like to work with disabled students as a teacher or guidance counselor, or maybe as a music therapist, she said.
"I can't narrow it down," she said. "Too many interests."
No matter what she does, Wenzel is sure the community will hear great things about this young woman.
"What we're seeing is someone who is an emerging leader," he said. "She's starting on the right path."