Give users control over timeouts

People with disabilities may take longer to read and interact with web content. Sometimes a time limit is present, for example, due to security requirements, and the browsing session is terminated after a period of inactivity. If there is no suitable warning or no ability to turn off or extend the time limit, there’s an increased risk that people with disabilities will be unable to successfully use the content.

  • Allow users to turn off or extend the time limit. The preferable approach is to give users control over the length of the time limit or whether the time limit is present at all. But in some cases this is likely to be impractical.
  • Allow users to extend the time limit. When the time limit approaches, provide a warning dialog that allows users to extend the time limit by a simple keypress, such as by pressing the spacebar.


If a time limit is present on a page or site:

  • Is there a mechanism for users to turn off the time limit or change its length?
  • As the time limit approaches, is there a message provided to alert users of the impending time out? Does the message allow them to extend the timeout?


✎ Technique: Session extension

For a number of reasons including data persistence, performance and security, it is sometimes beneficial to terminate idle user sessions.

So that users do not lose data, it's important to warn them of a session that is about to expire and give them the option to continue. This is especially true in the case of people who might take longer to read or interact with a page due to a disability. It's important to make such prompts accessible.


In the following example, we use the standard confirm function to display an accessible confirm dialog that extends the user's session if they choose "okay." If the user presses "cancel" or one minute elapses, the session ends and data they entered is discarded.

// start the countdown
var countdown = window.setTimeout(session.end(), 60000);

if (confirm("Your session will expire in one minute. Press OKAY for more time or CANCEL to end your session.")) {
  // clear the countdown
} else {
  // terminate the session immediately

When the "if..." line in the JavaScript is reached, the confirm dialog appears, the user's keyboard focus is moved to the cancel button and this message is read: "Your session will expire in one minute. Press OKAY for more time or CANCEL to end your session."

If the user is present, their activity is interrupted and they are forced to make a choice: They can’t interact with the page while the dialog is open. If they do not respond, it is assumed that the session has been abandoned, so it is terminated.