On the eve of the London Paralympics, Oscar Pistorius has praised the host nation's attitude towards disability and believes the world will have to watch the Games through "Britain's eyes", a vision that can help instigate a global shift in attitudes not only to Paralympic sport but also disabled people in general.
Pistorius, the world's most recognisable Paralympian who also made his Olympic debut in London, yesterday outlined his experience of the development of the Games since he first ran in them eight years ago and suggested London will be a new high in the history of the Paralympic movement.
"There is still a long way to go but the UK is at the forefront when it comes to education surrounding disability and that is the only way to get over the stigmas and the feeling it is a taboo subject," the South African said.
"It is not about disability, it is about the ability of the athlete. Yes there are people living with disabilities all around us, more and more every year, but it is not something we need to be ashamed of, or need to be scared of asking questions about – that is the only way you learn. And I believe this Paralympic Games is going to set many people's perceptions not just about Paralympic sport but about other people living with disabilities, it is going to completely change people's mindsets. I am just so excited to see the impact this will leave around the world.
"I travel extensively and see people's perceptions in different countries when it comes to disability. The UK is a country which I have noticed has dealt with disability in a really amazing way. They haven't thought of it as a problem, they have seen it more as a challenge to change people's perceptions. There are a lot of people that are going to watch these Games around the world that are going to be forced in a way to see these Paralympics through the eyes of the people of the UK. And I think that is a great thing. You see the profile of Paralympic athletes being higher than ever, they are becoming household names now."
Pistorius ran in the 400m and the 400m relay in the Olympics, running in the final of the latter. In the Paralympics he will compete in four events, the 100m, 100m relay, 200m and the 400m, and insists they are just as important to him as the Olympics. "I am as proud to be a Paralympian as I am to be an Olympian," he said.
He tries to take an active role in educating children curious about his prosthetic legs to help take away any stigmatism attached to disability.
"I will go up to a child and I will say: 'Hi, my name's Oscar and these are my cool prosthetic legs and I've got these because they got bitten off by a shark'. I will make up a cool story.
"I always joke and if the mother's beautiful I tell the kid it's because I didn't eat my vegetables, then I get a good thumbs-up.
"I don't have anything in life I'm not able to do. I don't focus on my disability, I focus on my ability and next time that kid sees somebody with a prosthetic leg they won't think any different of them."