Some people are born to lead. Just ask Emily Ferren.
Ferren joined L.I.F.E. Inc. back in 2015 as one of the original board members. Her activism in advocating for disability rights has developed into a nearly fifty-year battle.
“People either have a disability or become disabled. But everyone is looking for support and encouragement,” Ferren said while speaking from her home in Charles County, Maryland.
“They are looking for a way to still live their life even though they may have to make an adaptation,” Ferren said.
Activism hadn’t always been a part of Ferren’s life, but a librarian job changed everything. Ferren started working at a library outside of her hometown in Cleveland, Ohio. It sat next to a school for the deaf.
“I got interested in people with disabilities,” Ferren said.
Ferren’s desire to learn more about the deaf community led her to learn sign language. She taught her parents too. It would be vital years later.
“As it turned out, my parents had strokes and they had aphasia. And they weren’t able to speak,” Ferren said.
“I was able to keep them home with me because they were able to communicate with sign language,” Ferren said. “We were able to do activities because they had not lost their ability to communicate with me.”
Ferren’s life work includes a stop in New York City where she landed a job as a grant writer. Many of the people she worked with were blind. The grant position allowed her to train people on the Kurzweil Reading Machine which allowed people to put documents on a flat screen and a voice read it to them.
After her parents died, Ferren said she needed a change of scenery. She decided on southern Maryland. But first she needed a job. She attended a librarian conference in Maryland where she was offered five jobs. The position she chose ended up leading her to the Southern Maryland for Independent Living and eventually L.I.F.E. Inc.
“Unless you’re an advocate and you speak up and you ask for what needs to be done … it doesn’t happen,” Ferren saud. “No one’s going to come up and say ‘what do you need today?’”
Ferren isn’t one to rest. Her fight for equality within the disabled community has taken her passion and voice to the streets. She’s marched in D.C. voicing those concerns. The latest took place in 2015, for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“They (people with disabilities) still want to make choices,” Ferren said. “Whether that’s living in their own home or whether it’s holding down a job, or whether it’s adjusting to that disability. But everyone needs that connectivity.”
Ferren says that the importance of L.I.F.E. Inc. is that donating money and time is paramount in helping the disabled community lead independent lives. It’s the giving back that has gotten Ferren from a dark place.
Her husband died in July of 2020. She says she lost her direction, but that the light is slowly coming back into her life.
"In helping others, you end up helping yourself,” she said. “That’s something that comes with time and experience and you realize that when you help other people you’re really helping yourself.”