Conventional methods for collecting, analysing and disseminating data and information on disability in populations have relied on cross-sectional censuses and surveys which measure prevalence in a given period. While this may be relevant for defining the extent and demographic pattern of disabilities in a population, and thus indicating the need for rehabilitative services, prevention requires detailed information on the underlying diseases and injuries that cause disabilities. The Global Burden of Disease methodology described in this paper provides a mechanism for quantifying the health consequences of the years of life lived with disabilities by first estimating the age-sex-specific incidence rates of underlying conditions, and then mapping these to a single disability index which collectively reflects the probability of progressing to a disability, the duration of life lived with the disability, and the approximate severity of the disability in terms of activity restriction. Detailed estimates of the number of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lived are provided in this paper, for eight geographical regions. The results should be useful to those concerned with planning health services for the disabled and, more particularly, with determining policies to prevent the underlying conditions which give rise to serious disabling sequelae.