It was the best of times, but for some it came from the worst of times. The Paralympics were born out of injury and war all those years ago when they were a form of rehabilitation for those who had lost limbs and faculties. Now they are the second-biggest sporting event in the world.

My, how they have grown. My, how they have become such an essential part of our lives. My, how we need to pay more attention to the disabled more than every four years.

The disabled do not hide in shadows for four years between every Paralympics.

They are on our streets, behind desks, teaching children, writing fines, being arrested, making millions, losing millions, defining policy, fighting injustice, falling pregnant, giving birth, being robbed, being raped, murdered, loving, hating, smiling, laughing, crying, limping, hobbling, wheeling and, ultimately, living.

The disabled, every day, despite the fact that we think we don’t see them, are living.

They are with us.

There are South Africans who have had accidents, after watching one Paralympic Games, who thought it could never happen to them, and then lost a limb.

Achmat Hassiem’s leg was taken by a great white shark before Beijing; Natalie du Toit lost her leg in a scooter accident in 2001 after she had just failed to qualify for the Sydney Games. Instead she became South Africa’s greatest Paralympian with 15 medals.

Team South Africa will leave London tonight with their heads held high. Their target of 29 medals was one short of the 30 they won in Beijing, but those who had trumpeted that they would win 40 were politicians.

The truth is that disabled sport has broken the glass ceiling. It is now an elite sport. Anyone who had any doubt about that had only to watch Oscar Pistorius in the final event on Saturday night. Tomorrow they will arrive home, tired and burdened with medals. They deserve a parade through the streets of our land. They are the disabled. They are champions.

They will not hide in the shadows again.