Elaine Ostroff started her career in design education in 1961, founding the Looking Glass Theatre in Providence Rhode Island. Her work with children at the theatre led to the transforming of institutional education environments, utilising simple props developed in collaboration with industrial designers from Rhode Island School of Design.
Later in the decade, Ostroff played an instrumental role in establishing a multi-disciplinary graduate programme at the Massachusetts College of Art that emphasised the role of designers and artists in creating community-based projects for disabled people.
Ostroff continued her pioneering work in 1978 when she co-founded the Adaptive Environments Centre in Boston Massachusetts. The first non-profit organisation in the United States that addressed both teaching design skills to non-designers and the value of working with users to make inclusive environments, her efforts supported disabled consumers and the movement for civil rights in the USA, culminating in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
In 1992, Ostroff set up the Universal Design Education Project, working with faculty from 25 colleges and universities across the United States, while simultaneously helping to introduce similar schemes in Europe and Asia.
She has also encouraged the introduction of Universal Design into the teaching of architecture, working closely with the American Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), who later acknowledged her efforts with an honorary award in 2003.
Other major projects include founding the Global Universal Design Educators Network, as well as co-editing the Universal Design Handbook, which was published by McGraw-Hill in 2001. Featuring contributors from every continent, it is considered by many as the encyclopedia of the Universal Design movement. For a number of years Ostroff also edited the Universal Design Education website, enabling educators to share their social justice values in the service of a more equitable society.