Niall McVeigh (21), a student from Newry, is the short stature para-badminton world champion. He says:
I was born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. I'm 4ft 2in and the only small one in the family.
When people first meet me they're a bit surprised but once they get to know you they get used to it. People tend to look at me a bit when I'm out but you have to expect that.
I can do most things, except in the kitchen; I have to use stools to reach benches or in the supermarket I have to ask people to hand me down things from shelves.
I first started playing badminton when I was seven. My dad played so I went along to his club. Children don’t tend to notice difference as much. Until I was 12, I was a member of an able-bodied team and played in junior tournaments.
It's when you hit puberty and others start growing much taller that you notice it more. Still, I played in my first disabled tournament, the European Championship, when I was 16 and won it. I won the world championship last year in Guatemala.
Currently para-badminton isn't a Paralympic sport, although we're hoping it will be by the 2020 Games. The Paralympics have been brilliant — getting disabled sport on TV has let people see what’s out there. Realistically, in a year, most people will have forgotten about the Paralympics but hopefully certain sports, like swimming and athletics, will continue to get more publicity.
Johnny McCarthy (22) works for Disability Sports NI and lives in Lisburn. He says:
I was born with spina bifida which has left me with limited use of my legs so I use a wheelchair. I was able to use crutches until I was 11 but I was always going to be using a wheelchair at some point.
There’s still a stigma about disability which means people don't really know what to say when they first meet me. I crack jokes about my condition and they get uncomfortable.
Whenever I'm getting out of my car people often offer to help. It's nice, but I wonder how they think I managed to get into the car and drive myself around in the first place? And people on the street will say silly things, but I don't let that worry me.
These days getting around in a wheelchair is fine most of the time. I'm an amateur stand-up — or rather sit-down, as I say in my routine — comic. I can get myself up and down stairs as long as someone carries my wheelchair. The Paralympics has people talking about disabled sport more. It’s not as taboo as it once was. Paralympians have been on the front pages of newspapers which I've never seen before.
The Games will have a lasting effect due to the legacy project promised when the bid for London 2012 was made. That should bring more funding for disabled sport.
Patsy Bell (58) lives in Carrickfergus with wife Madeleine and represented GB in archery in the 1992 Paralympics. He says:
I've been a paraplegic since a road traffic accident in 1985 left me paralysed from the chest down. I've been in a wheelchair ever since. After the accident, I lived in Magherafelt and I didn't feel that people treated me any differently. I’d the same circle of friends as before, plus a few new ones. There aren’t any prejudices here — I’ve never been discriminated against for being in a wheelchair.
I joined the Northern Ireland Archery Society in 1986 and it was a sport that put me on an even par with everyone else because my disability didn't affect my ability to do it. As well as representing GB in 1992, I was also Northern Irish, British and Irish champion and won a bronze medal at the European championships.
The Paralympics in Barcelona were so well-organised but didn't get half the attention they do now. Gradually though, disabled sports have got more money and have become more acceptable.
People are surprised at how how fit the Games athletes are. I don't think they realised how much those with disabilities can do — I wish I was still that fit.
Michael Johnston (36) has been deaf since birth and is manager of the Northern Ireland Deaf Youth Association. He lives in Bangor with wife Alice, who is also deaf and son Aaron, who can hear. He says:
I’m proud to be deaf and don't feel any sense of helplessness. I went to a deaf school where I was in my comfort zone. However, after leaving, it was a struggle.
The only barrier is communicating with others; at times I misunderstand and have to ask people to slow down. Some people do react strangely when I tell them I'm deaf. They’re not ignorant but they do lack awareness on how to communicate with deaf people. I can't hear the phone or watch a film without subtitles, I can't listen to music or converse effectively in a group conversation with hearing people who don't use sign language. But I'm not annoyed about not having access to certain things because technology has improved so much.
As a deaf person, it can be harder to play sport. In football, for example, when a ref blows his whistle a deaf footballer may not hear it though this is easily solved if he waves a flag when the whistle has been blown so the deaf player knows the game has stopped.
The public are not very aware of the Deaflympics because publicity is poor and there’s a lack of funding. And the International Deaf Sports governing body does not support the inclusion of deaf sports in the Paralympics, though I'm not annoyed about that. If we were to compete in the Games, we'd be restricted in the number of events we can participate in.
But the Paralympics has changed people's perceptions of disabled sports and things will get better for people with disabilities and deafness.
Niall Dempsey (25) works as a Youth Development Officer at the RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) and lives in Belfast. He is partially sighted. He says:
I was born partially sighted, but when I was growing up I played for a local football club.
I get strange reactions occasionally — I play in a football team in a mainstream league and when we're picking sides you can't tell the difference between me and those who are fully sighted, yet sometimes when people find out that I'm partially sighted they start thinking I can't do |things that they've just watched me do on the field, which is a bit weird.
I try not to focus on my disability too much; being angry about it isn't going to improve anything. I'm single, but I don't put that down to my condition.
Nor has it ever stopped me from living an independent life, having a job and getting into sport and other hobbies.
I'm not allowed to drive, |however, so I walk or cycle to get around.
You can tell by the crowds at the Paralympics that people are really taking an interest in it, which can only be a good thing and increase the role that people with disabilities can have in sport.
The awareness of the ability disabled people can have is increasing too.
People like Jason Smyth are doing amazing things and even competing in non-disabled races, so it's had a positive impact.
The Paralympics will leave a big legacy and inspire a generation.