Skip Navigation

Office on Disability

Biography of Margaret Giannini, M.D., F.A.A.P.                                          

 Honorable Margaret J. Giannini, M.D., F.A.A.P. was appointed by President George W. Bush on November 11, 2001, as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging, Administration on Aging, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). On  October 1, 2002, she was appointed Director of the Office on Disability by Secretary Tommy G.Thompson. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  As Director of the Office on Disability, many key initiatives have been accomplished, including: (1) major responsibility for implementing the President’s New Freedom Initiative; (2) initiated the Constituent Working Group meetings with key officials in HHS to explore ways to improve health and wellness services for people with disabilities; (3) was the architect of the Surgeon General’s  A Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities; (4) created the national initiative on improving physical fitness for children and youth with disabilities with the implementation of the “I Can Do It, You Can Do It” Program; (5) administered the implementation of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to make all electronic information accessible for people with disabilities; (6) prioritized Closing the Gaps in Healthcare and Educational Interventional Services for Infants and Young Children with Hearing Loss;” (6) created and initiated the models for systems change for the seamless transition of youth with disabilities in six states and four Tribes; (7) explored the prevalence of suicide among at risk adolescents with disabilities; (8) identified the need to provide services for children and youth with co-occurring disabilities, such as a child with developmental disabilities and mental health problems; and (9) created the Annual Event celebrating persons with disabilities during the Presidential Month of Employment of the Disabled.

Dr. Giannini has devoted her professional life to person with disabilities and has been a pioneer in the development of a number of initiatives in research, training, and clinical services for the disabled community. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Dr. Giannini as the first Director of the National Institute of Handicapped Research (now the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research), which was confirmed by the Senate in January of 1980. From 1981-1992, Dr. Giannini was Deputy Assistant Chief Medical Director for Rehabilitation and Prosthetics for Disabled Veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C.  In 1950, she was the first to create the largest facility for the developmentally disabled for all ages and etiologies nationally and internationally, which became the first University Center of Excellence on Developmental Disabilities.

She has served for 24 years as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the American University of Rome, making significant contributions to the major growth of the University.

Dr. Giannini is the recipient of many national and international awards from various organizations in recognition of her professional and humanitarian services and achievements. She was saluted by the Association for Pediatric Research; selected "Woman of the Year" for Achievement in Medicine by the Amita Association; chosen "Woman-Doer" by President and Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House; received the Wyeth Medical Achievement Award; received the Service Award of the American Association on Mental Deficiency; awarded the Seal of the Inner London Education Authority for Contributions in the Field of Mental Retardation at the House of Parliament London; received the Governor Hugh Carey Citation for Leadership and Medical Contributions to the State of New York; held two of the most prestigious presidencies of organizations concerned with disabilities: Past President of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Past President of the  Association of University Centers on Disabilities; awarded the Key to the City of Bologna, Italy and the Meritorious Honor Award in Mental Retardation; received the Bronze Medal Award by the American Academy of Pediatrics; received the National Italian-American Foundation Award for Distinguished Achievements in Science and Medicine; received the 1982 Alumna of the Year Award, Hahnemann Medical College (now called Drexel University); presented the "Recognition Plaque' from the City of San Francisco; received the Seton Award from Seton Hall College, Pittsburgh, PA; given the First Presidential Award for Design Excellence for the design of the Seattle Foot from President Reagan; presented with the N. Neal Pike Award for Service to the handicapped from Boston University; presented with the Isabelle and Leonard H. Goldenson Award for Technology Application to Cerebral Palsy from the United Cerebral Palsy Associations of America; awarded President Reagan's Distinguished Service Award, Committee on Employment of the Handicapped; given the Silver helmet Award by AMVETS; is in the New York Hall of Fame (AHRC, '98); was honored by the naming of the "Hon. Margaret J. Giannini, M.D. Physical Rehabilitation Pavilion" in 1997 at Westchester Special School, N.Y.; received the First International Leadership Scholars Award by the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, in recognition for "International Programs in Rehabilitation and Disability;" given the  Lifetime Achievement Award, Georgetown University; presented with The American Medical Association awarded Honors for her contributions as a Presidential Appointee in the Executive Branch that has made the most contributions to public health services; presented with the  Rienzi Foundation Award for her work with cochlear implants for deafness; given the Lifetime Achievement Award, American Association for University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities; received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Consortium for Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities for her professional contributions to the health and wellness for persons with disabilities; and received the Trophe D’Honore in Paris from the Republic of France, and APACHE, an organization comprised of 600 disability related agencies and groups in France.

Among her accomplishments she has established a number of innovative programs for prevention, early detection and treatment of intellectual disorders in the inner city and has been responsible for organizing community traveling health teams representing a variety of related disciplines. She gained the confidence and cooperation of those working to provide medical, social, psychological and vocational opportunities for the people with intellectual disorders, building a firm basis for close and meaningful work with Boards of Education and allied social agencies. Such relationships resulted in the first preschool unit in New York City for children with intellectual disorders; special programs in speech, audiological evaluation and therapy for multiply disabled children; group counseling for bilinqual parents of children with intellectual disorders.

She has received the following honorary degrees: presented the First Honorary Degree by Mercy College Doctor of Humane Letters; received the American University of Rome’s Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa; and received an Honorary Doctor of Science, Case Western Reserve University.

Dr. Giannini has served on numerous national and international boards and chaired more than 61 international conferences on rehabilitation and developmental disabilities in many countries, including Israel, Italy, Spain, China, Russia, Argentina, India, Egypt and others. She has published extensively and lectured nationally and internationally. Dr. Giannini has most recently edited "Behavioral Neurology in the Elderly.” She is also a Member of the Institute of Medicine of The National Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.