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PRESENTER: This tutorial explores accessible session timeouts. We're going to cover what is a session timeout, accessibility concerns, solutions, and exceptions.

Session one, what is a session timeout? A session timeout occurs when a user doesn't perform any action on a website for a set period of time.

Session timeouts are commonly defined in one of two ways-- one, the time taken for a user to complete a task such as filling in a form, and, two, the time since the last user activity. User activity could include clicking a button, filling in a form field, submitting a form, et cetera. When a session timeout period is complete, the user session status changes to invalid, and data entered by the user may be deleted.

Section two, accessibility concerns-- some people may not be able to respond or interact with a site appropriately before a time limit is reached. Some people need extended periods of time in order to complete tasks on web applications. These include but are not limited to cognitive-impaired users, users with some sort of cognitive impairment who may take longer to comprehend and complete tasks; screen magnifier users, screen magnifiers users where scrolling and positioning can take much longer to complete a task; keyboard only users. Timeouts present barriers for many types of keyboard-only users, especially those with extreme disabilities such as users with head wands, switches, or puffer devices.

Sections three, solutions-- if a session timeout is essential, users should be able to extend, change, or disable the time limit, to ensure they can still complete tasks and make choices at their own speed. Web applications or websites that use session timeouts should include at least one of the following solutions. One, provide a means to adjust or disable a time feature before starting an interaction. The adjustment should allow for up to 10 times the length of the default timeout.

In this example, users are able to extend the time period from the default period of 6 minutes using a button that states extend time to 60 minutes. Two, in this second example, users can disable the time period completely. Three, warn the user at least 30 seconds prior to the timeout.

In this example, a modal dialog appears as an alert, and it informs users of the time remaining. Users can choose OK to continue and extend time or Cancel to log out. If they do nothing, they will be timed out after 30 seconds.

You must provide the ability for users to extend the time period at least 10 times. You also must give the users at least 30 seconds to warn them about timeouts so they can activate the preferred option. Four, provide a simple and accessible means to extend the time period during the session time. In this example, the modal dialog also includes a button that allows users to extend the time period. The modal dialog includes two methods that allow users to extend the time period-- the space bar and the Extend Time button.

Section four, exceptions-- there are times when it's impossible to allow users to extend the time period beyond a specific point. This is generally the case for real-time content and content that would be invalidated by allowing for more time, such as an online auction. It may also be the case for time-based activity such as hand-eye coordination tests. In these cases, users should be provided with other options such as being able to contact someone for additional help.

Conclusion-- so there you have it, a simple explanation of accessible session timeouts.

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under Creative Commons by Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 license, copyright 2018, California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. These works are licensed under Creative Commons attribution 4.0 international license. They are available to everyone and may be repurposed to meet the unique needs of educational institutions.