BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Even the smallest of home renovations can
change the life of someone with a disability. Widening a doorway or
adding grab bars around a toilet can mean the difference between
independence and dependence -- between comfort and discomfort in
one's own home.
That knowledge is what has driven architect Danise Levine to
design about 475 home modifications over the past 15 years as a
member of the University at Buffalo's Center for Inclusive Design
and Environmental Access (IDeA Center).
"You see people in their homes, and they're restricted by their
environment. To try and overcome this, they tend to adapt their
behavior to their environment instead of adapting their environment
to fit their behavior. It's very rewarding when you can help change
that," Levine said.
Levine, now the IDeA Center's assistant director, began working
on home modifications in 1996, soon after graduating from UB's
architecture master's degree program.
She works for small fees and, on occasion, has offered services
pro bono. Most of her clients are families whose children have
disabilities. But people who have sought her help include
individuals who have lost their mobility as the result of an
accident, as well as older adults hoping to live comfortably in
their homes as they age.
Levine is also a member of an expert team helping the U.S. Army
design family housing for wounded veterans through the Wounded
Warrior Home Project. Two model homes that employ universal
design principles are nearing completion at Fort Belvoir, Va.
On average, Levine works on two or three modifications a week,
primarily in Western New York. Through her diverse experiences, she
has learned to navigate the state system that funds modifications
and solidified her understanding of the amount of work contractors
can complete with limited money.
On the job, Levine works closely with families to discern their
"Everyone's situation and needs are different," she said. "It's
about taking a look at what the person needs today and also
anticipating what their needs will be a few years from now."
Levine's ability to understand her clients is one reason her
modifications are successful, said Carol Kizis. Kizis and her
husband, UB Professor Joseph Gardella, hired Levine in the late
1990s to design renovations and an addition to their home in North
The couple's daughter, now 20, uses a wheelchair due to cerebral
palsy, and they wanted to enable her to move about their home
With Levine's expertise, the family widened doorways, installed
an elevator, added accessible bathrooms and created two accessible
entries to the home. Some changes, like raising the height of the
dishwasher or moving electrical outlets higher on walls to
facilitate access, have made the house more comfortable for the
At the front door, Levine designed a ramp that not only serves a
practical purpose, but blends in with the aesthetics of the house.
(The ramp is tucked behind short, concrete walls that look like a
set of stairs from the street.)
"I loved her," Kizis said of Levine. "She put up with my
questions. She listens to you, but also offers you an honest
opinion of how it's going to be. If she thinks you're going to make
a big mistake, she'll tell you."
As a result of the modifications, Kizis said, her daughter "can
go where she wants to go."
"That, I think, is the big thing," Kizis continued. "Often, a
person with a disability ends up having a bedroom on the first
floor. But our bedrooms are on the second floor, and we didn't want
our daughter to be separated from us. Because of the elevator and
the modifications we completed, our daughter's bedroom is also on
the second floor. She is an equal."
For Levine, that's the greatest reward -- the changes she sees
in her clients' daily lives.
"A lot of times, I don't get the opportunity to go back to see
the modifications after they're done. But when I do, it's
incredible to see it," she said. "It's not so much the physical
product that I'm awed by. It's the change in the person's behavior,
and the change in what they can do. They don't only love it because
they love the aesthetics of it. They love it because it has changed
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.
IDeA Center a Partner in $4.75 Million to Advance Universal
Design, Improve Accessibility: http://www.buffalo.edu/news/11804
About the IDeA Center: http://www.ap.buffalo.edu/idea/AboutUs/index.asp