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Web Accessibility Tips: Give People Enough Time

Feb 1, 2023

If your website has time-dependent content — including authenticated sessions — make sure you’re providing people with enough time to finish their work. 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Guideline 2.2, “Enough Time,” explains the importance of thinking about your entire audience:

Many users who have disabilities need more time to complete tasks than the majority of users: they may take longer to physically respond, they may take longer to read things, they may have low vision and take longer to find things or to read them, or they may be accessing content through an assistive technology that requires more time. 

For people with memory impairments, neurocognitive differences, and other conditions, time limits can be endlessly frustrating — especially when they’re totally unnecessary. Wherever possible, you should avoid time-gating your content.

Of course, many time limits serve an important purpose. If you’re developing an ecommerce website, you need to automatically log idle users out of their accounts to protect their privacy. You might also develop a web app that requires interaction within a certain timeframe (for instance, a quiz in an educational portal), or you might need to authenticate users to maintain security.

However, you can implement time limits in an accessible way and avoid common barriers that might affect your users. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

If a time limit exists, make sure to tell your users

You want your website to be predictable. If people don’t understand how to operate your content, you’re creating unnecessary frustration for some users.

If any part of a process has a strict, short time limit (such as a timed quiz), tell users before they begin entering data. For longer time limits (such as banking portal timeouts), provide an error message at least 20 seconds before the timeout occurs. 

A quick message that reads, “Do you need more time?” can help you fulfill WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion 2.2.1, “Timing Adjustable,” and all users will benefit.

Within the time-dependent content, limit the number of pop-up notifications and other interruptions. Make sure all notifications are accessible for screen readers and other assistive technologies.

Related: What Is Cognitive Accessibility?

Wherever possible, give users control over time limits

If a time limit is not essential or related to a real-time event, you should provide users with options to:

  • Turn off the time limit before encountering it.

  • Adjust the time limit over a wide range that is at least 10 times the length of the default setting.

  • Extend the time limit with a simple action (such as pressing the spacebar or activating a button).

If an authenticated session expires, users should be able to continue the activity without losing data after reauthenticating. This isn’t possible in every case, but limiting data entry improves the user experience.

Related: How To Make Your Website's Authentication Process Accessible

If your website has a strict time limit, offer alternatives

Consider the purpose of your website’s time-dependent features. You might be able to adjust the implementation of the timeout or offer alternatives that will benefit users with disabilities. Some quick examples:

  • An auction website cannot disable time limits on real-time auctions. Some users may not be able to place bids online in realtime, but the website provides a phone number that people can call to place bids.

  • A news website provides instant updates about an ongoing story. Older posts disappear off of the page, but users have the option to pause the page, preventing the old posts from disappearing.

  • A ticket website reserves tickets from a pool for several minutes. The ticket website cannot disable this time limit, but other parts of the process (such as creating an account and entering payment information) do not fall under the same restriction.

The bottom line: When you actively consider the experiences of different types of users, you can improve those experiences. That leads to more conversions (and usually, much happier customers).

For guidance with a specific website, send us a message to connect with an accessibility expert. To learn more about digital compliance and web accessibility, download our free eBook: Essential Guide to ADA Compliance for Websites.

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