The Functional Autonomy Measurement System (SMAF) is an instrument developed for the measurement of the needs of the elderly and the handicapped. Its elaboration was based on the World Health Organization's classification of impairments, disabilities and handicaps. A functional autonomy rating scale, using a four-level measurement scale, quantifies a subject's performance on 29 functions in five sectors of activity: activities of daily living, mobility, communication, mental functions and instrumental activities of daily living. For each function, the evaluator must also estimate available resources to compensate for any identified disability in order to estimate the handicap. The disability and handicap profile obtained is the basis for the prescription of home care or the allocation of chronic care beds. An inter-observer study concluded that the scale is reliable for evaluators from different professions in the community as well as in institutional settings. The instrument is rapid to administer (on average 42 min) and the reliability is not influenced by training. A study of concurrent validity has shown a strong correlation between the disability index obtained by the SMAF and the amount of required nursing-care time. This instrument can be used for clinical purposes and in epidemiological and evaluative research.