Paige Zaldin, 17, has cerebral palsy and is using her voice to speak up for kids and teens with disabilities who have been left behind during the pandemic. She experiences challenges with mobility, energy levels, depth perception and pain related to her disability and relies on personal support workers (PSWs) at school and at home, as well as regular outpatient physiotherapy.

COVID-19 closures and restrictions over the past two years have impacted almost every aspect of her day-to-day life, including the services she receives and her recovery from reconstructive surgery on her leg. Prior to the pandemic, the Toronto teen received regular checkups and in-person therapies through a specialized clinic at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, where she has been both an inpatient and outpatient since the age of three. When the pandemic hit, all of those in-person services came to a halt. Face-to-face appointments became virtual Zoom visits. She lost access to care she was receiving from her PSWs, which was tied to her attending school in-person.

While she was given a home exercise program—which she performs regularly—it wasn’t the same as hands-on therapy with a trained physiotherapist and the specialized equipment found in Holland Bloorview’s therapy gym. “The home exercise program is only supposed to be one piece of the puzzle,” she says. “It’s not supposed to be the entire thing.”

Both of Paige’s parents were forced to step in and act as de-facto physiotherapists and PSWs. She says the gaps in her physiotherapy significantly delayed her recovery from the 2018 reconstructive surgery performed on her leg at The Hospital for Sick Children. She had been receiving weekly outpatient physiotherapy at Holland Bloorview to help her develop physical endurance and balance and help her learn how to walk again after the surgery. “This huge part of what was supposed to be my recovery was missing,” she says. It also set her back in meeting her developmental goals and she lost fitness because many physical activities are difficult for her to do outside of a physiotherapy setting.

Paige wants Ontario political leaders to understand that services such as PSWs and hands-on physiotherapy aren’t luxuries. They are critical to helping children and youth like her live with dignity and achieve their full potential. “They’re necessities,” she says. “Access to them impacts my future, my ability to be independent, my freedom and my ability to contribute to society.”

“My whole life has been impacted by the pandemic,” she adds. “I’m speaking up now because if I don’t speak for myself who will?”

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