The following is one in a monthly series featuring the extraordinary people who make up the LightHouse staff.
Naomi Rosenberg, one of LightHouse’s Accessible Media Specialists, is uniquely equipped to masterfully create materials that are accessible to users who are blind or low vision. She told us, “I love learning languages and I have a degree in Architecture, so the combination of learning braille and using Universal Design (constructing products and spaces so that they can be used by the widest range of people possible) principles is very exciting. I love the challenge of creating tactile maps and 3D models to represent concepts we often only consider visually.” In addition to studying architecture, Naomi earned her undergraduate degree in art, with a focus on sculpture and printmaking, two skills she incorporates into her process.
“Printmaking is about creating physical (tactile) images to produce flat images,” she said. “At LightHouse, I do the reverse of this by taking flat images and translating them into tactile representations.” Naomi also explains how her background in sculpture has honed her skills in making 3D models. “Whether designing a building or creating a sculpture, you have to imagine the way something will look in 3D, which often means making decisions about scale and orientation that conflict with reality.” For example, the famous statue of David is known for having an abnormally large hand. Michelangelo may have intentionally created a large hand to draw attention to an element he wanted the viewer to immediately notice, the hand that slung the stones that took down a giant. “When I create 3D models,” she continues, “I have to consider what’s important to the user. An example of this is a 3D-printed model of a cross-section of a worm for use by blind high school biology students. In designing the model, I had to balance tactile legibility with the inclination to maintain scientific accuracy. We often adjust scale in maps and floor plans as well, keeping in mind which elements are most important to the reading of the object.”
It’s always interesting to learn how our employees discovered the LightHouse. Naomi told us, “At UC Berkeley, where I earned my Master’s in Architecture, [LightHouse Board President] Chris Downey gave a lecture on Universal Design and ADA construction. The following year, he taught a semester-long course on the same topic, which I was lucky to be able to take. While I had a background working with people in the disability community, Chris gave me a framework for design practice, especially focusing on the needs of blind and visually impaired users. When I found myself looking for a job after a cross-country move, I reached out to Chris, asking him if he knew of any opportunities in accessibility. He suggested LightHouse.”
In addition to being a skilled designer, Naomi has a knack for learning languages, especially alphabets. “I learned Hebrew as a child and learned Georgian during a one year high school exchange. I also learned Russian, French, and German.” Shortly after starting at the LightHouse, Naomi taught herself braille, adding one more alphabet to her list.
Regarding the LightHouse’s springtime move to our new expanded headquarters on Market Street, Naomi notes, “It’s an exciting time to be at the LightHouse, as the agency grows and as my department expands services to include 3D printing.” Naomi is an integral part of the team because she incorporates her language, artistic and architectural skills to develop internal standards for our 3D designs, and to further our tactile maps. “My team is incredibly skilled, with BJ [Epstein] who also has her Master’s in Architecture, and Julie [Sadlier], who is a geographer. It’s awesome working with people who are creative, and who are eager to make beautiful, cutting edge accessible materials.”
Naomi and her partner live in Berkeley, in a cabin attached to her childhood home. She remains close to her parents and sister, who instilled in her a desire to think critically and consider the needs of others. “My mother is an artist, massage therapist, and former social worker. My father recently retired from a 30-year stint in agricultural labor management at UC Berkeley. Together, they taught me the importance of creatively looking for solutions to endemic problems, which is relevant to Universal Design and making accessible materials.”
“When I’m at home, I love drawing and building.” LightHouse employees enjoy seeing the awesome repurposed materials that Naomi turns into wearable art, like earrings she made from cardboard instead of beautiful Japanese Akoya Earrings. “I’m also a passionate cyclist. I especially love cruising down Highway 1; a truly beautiful route along the coast.”
If you’re interested in ordering accessible materials, like braille, tactile maps, or 3D designs, contact Access to Information Services at 415.694.7349or MADLab@lighthouse-sf.org.