“The first ever world report on disability, produced jointly by WHO and the World Bank, suggests that 15% of the world population – or more than 1 billion people in the world today – experience disability.”

I would start by asking people to look away from the label of disability; to stop seeing disabled people in terms of what they do not have, and focus on the abilities they’ve developed through their life experiences. Look at them as people, not as a stereotype, and remember that disability is not an identity, it’s just a characteristic.

People with disability – or different abilities – have different ways of achieving their goals, and this gives them unique skills and a different perspective. The challenge for human resources departments is to ask questions that will help identify these capabilities. In general, what’s important in any job is intelligence, intuition, adaptability, commitment and loyalty.

Many companies have looked past a candidate’s disability and hired them on their talent – Unilever, Microsoft, B&Q, Lexmark, PepsiCo, HSBC and Dell, among others. However, our biggest challenge is still to open people’s minds as to what people with disabilities can and can’t do. It’s important that we stop pitying and start respecting and learning.

Technology is playing an enormous role in improving lives. Speech recognition, automatic doors, ramps, hearing gadgets – these all help disabled people access information, work opportunities and tools for professional development.

The biggest obstacle is not the disability itself but society’s negative attitude. Many people are afraid of the unknown and unaware of their own prejudice; some don’t even recognize their attitude as a problem.

Workers with disabilities have been shown to add value in both the short and long term. They are more loyal, reliable and hardworking, something that is reflected in their productivity, creativity and innovation. Imagine if we start investing in this huge pool of untapped talent.

However, because of the cultural context in which disabled people have been living, it is still very difficult to find individuals who are skilled, qualified and experienced. For this reason, we need to start investing in their personal development; we need to give them the skills and qualifications to compete in the workplace like any other person. We should help them become conscious of their unconscious strengths, aware of the ability of their disability. Most importantly, we should help them raise their self-esteem.

Only then can hiring people with a disability – or different abilities – make business sense, in terms of a win-win environment in which the employees succeed and the employers meet their overall business objectives.

Investing in this untapped talent can lead to social empowerment and economic mobility, and this in turn will help ensure inclusive growth.

Author: Gina Badenoch is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ojos que Sienten (Sight of Emotion), which aims to change perceptions about people who are blind and visually impaired and help them achieve full integration in society.

Image: Pedro Camano (L), who is visually impaired, works with clay during a workshop in Panama City July 9, 2013.