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'She was a force against ableism': Tributes pour in after sudden death of former Paralympian Arley McNeney

Arley McNeney holds up her novel "The Time We All Went Marching." The former Paralympian, writer, accessibility advocate and devout mother died suddenly last week, her family announced on March 28, 2023. (Courtesy: Stephanie Clark) Arley McNeney holds up her novel "The Time We All Went Marching." The former Paralympian, writer, accessibility advocate and devout mother died suddenly last week, her family announced on March 28, 2023. (Courtesy: Stephanie Clark)
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B.C.-born former Paralympian Arley McNeney died suddenly last week, her family revealed Tuesday.

She’s being remembered as a passionate advocate for social justice, equality, accessibility and inclusion—as well as a devoted mother to her daughter Dottie.

“I can’t put words to the love Arley has for Dot,” Denver McNeney wrote in a tweet announcing his sister’s death.

Born in New Westminster, McNeney, who also went by Arley Cruthers, played for Canada’s national wheelchair basketball team from 2001 to 2007—winning two World Championships and a bronze medal at the 2004 Paralympics.

She later went on to win two U.S. national championships with the women's varsity wheelchair basketball team at the University of Illinois, where she earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing.

McNeney has written two novels, worked as a communications consultant for several wheelchair organizations, and taught communications at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s business school for over seven years.

“Arley accomplished an amazing amount in her 40 years, but Arley believed that the measure of a person was how they lifted up those around them,” Denver McNeney said.

Arley McNeney’s death has triggered an outpouring of grief online, as people from various communities share their stories and memories of her.

AN 'IMMEASURABLY RICH' LEGACY

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Melville School of Business at KPU described McNeney as a highly respected, tireless scholar who was beloved and incredibly generous.

“Arley’s legacy is immeasurably rich and will continue through the inspired work of her friends and colleagues, and the thousands of students she taught,” Dean pro tem Heather Harrison wrote in an email to CTV News. “Her expertise, and the generosity with which she shared it, are irreplaceable.”

Harrison also highlighted that McNeney was the inaugural recipient of KPU’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion award in 2021.

She also earned an award for Excellence in Open Education from BCcampus in 2019.

“I consider it one of the great privileges of my life to have worked closely with her during my time at KPU,” her friend and colleague Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani wrote on Twitter.

Gabrielle Peters, a disabled writer and policy analyst who frequently collaborated with McNeney, told CTV News that her friend was “nothing but good.”

“She was just someone who you immediately trusted. There was no other motive, she was just there to help to create good things in this world, to be a source of light, and she had so much talent,” Peters said.

McNeney designed artwork based on disability slogans coined by Peters, with all proceeds going to the pair’s mutual aid project Crip Care.

“She loved doing the art, and she did it in such a way—she took those words and brought them to life with her art—but the thing that excited her the most was the giving away of the money,” Peters said.

To honour her legacy, Peters hopes that Marpole Adaptive Soccer, an accessible program for youth with disabilities that McNeney co-created, will adopt a “no Applied Behaviour Analysis policy.”

“She just wanted a program where children with developmental disabilities could just show up however they are—run, kick a ball, feel loved and included—without any sort of effort to change their behaviour."

THE TITLE MOST IMPORTANT: MOM

A woman with many different roles—artist, activist, Paralympian and community organizer—those who knew her agree that the title most important to McNeney was mom.

A fundraiser has been set up by McNeney’s family online, with any money raised going towards Dottie’s “future development and education.”

“We would be equally grateful for your stories or memories of Arley,” the fundraising page reads.

Denver McNeney says more details will be available in the coming days regarding a celebration of life and place to memorialize his sister “where Dottie can learn about her mother’s impact on the people around her.”

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