AccessibilityTimeouts

Some interactions require the user to read content or complete an action within a certain time limit.

Different people will take different lengths of time to complete a task and may not be able to do so if the option to turn off, adjust or extend the time limit is not available.

Animated, moving or scrolling content that automatically advances or updates will also have an impact on certain people’s ability to read it.

Helping everyone

All users will benefit from knowing how long they have to complete an action.

All users will benefit from being able to turn off, adjust or extend time limits, for instance if they need to double-check or find extra information to complete their task.

The basics

Do:

  • inform the user of any time limits before they start, how these work, and what happens to data when there is a timeout
  • allow the user to change the length of the timeout in the site settings
  • allow the user to turn off, delay or extend the length of time available
  • provide a way for the user to get back to where they were if they experience a timeout
  • communicate timeout messages to all users in an accessible way

Do not:

  • redirect or refresh the page without telling the user
  • implement a timeout that cannot be turned off, delayed or extended
Examples of users with access needs
User Access need May find helpful
Blind Need more time to understand page layouts, find information and operate controls

May not be able to see timeout warning message
More time when using a screen reader to navigate the page

Accessible timeout messages
Partially sighted Need more time to locate and read information

May not be able to see timeout warning message
More time to explore the page and read content

Accessible timeout messages
Motor impairment Need more time to react, type and interact with forms More time to interact with the page
Cognitive, language and learning disability Need more time to read and understand text More time to read and process the page
Deaf or has a hearing impairment Need more time to process auditory information in alternative formats, including via a sign language interpreter More time to process auditory information
Deaf sign language users, non-English speakers More time to read and understand text as English may not be primary way of communicating More time to read the page

Creating timeouts

Consider whether a time limit is really necessary or whether the desired outcome can be achieved in another way.

Inform the user

Tell users about the timeout, and what the timeout limit is, at the start of the process.

Turn off, delay or extend the length of time available

Any process that happens after a certain amount of time without specific user interaction is a time limit.

You must make it possible for the user to turn the timeout off or delay it (either by putting it off for now or by extending by a specified amount of time) especially if this may result in a loss of data.

There is an exception for processes where extending the time limit would invalidate the activity -such as an exam or auction.

In cases where extending the time limit would invalidate the activity, it may be appropriate to give extra time as part of a reasonable adjustment. You should provide a way for an admin to allow a specific user to have extra time.

Where timeouts are implemented you should:

  • inform the user of any time limits before they start, how these work, and what happens to data when there is a timeout
  • alert users when they are about to reach the timeout limit, preferably several minutes before
  • allow time limits to be extended, giving users at least 60 seconds to extend it
  • communicate any timeout warning messages to all users, and that a screen reader is alerted if a timeout has occurred

Provide a way for the user to get back to where they were

When a user experiences a timeout, provide a way for them to return back to where they were before the timeout occurred. This may not be possible without the user having to re-enter data, though this should be minimised.

Get in touch

If you’ve got a question or suggestion share it on the Home Office DDaT Slack channel #ask-accessibility or email access@digital.homeoffice.gov.uk.