I think one of the things that causes me the most stress is the feeling of being rushed. I don't mind deadlines - the kind I can use to plan my workload - but having to do something faster than I can process information or physically carry out the task is really stressful! This criterion states:
For each time limit that is set by the content, at least one of the following is true:
- Turn off:
- The user is allowed to turn off the time limit before encountering it
- The user is allowed to adjust the time limit before encountering it over a wide range that is at least ten times the length of the default setting
- The user is warned before time expires and given at least 20 seconds to extend the time limit with a simple action (for example, "press the space bar"), and the user is allowed to extend the time limit at least ten times
- Real-time Exception:
- The time limit is a required part of a real-time event (for example, an auction), and no alternative to the time limit is possible
- Essential Exception:
- The time limit is essential and extending it would invalidate the activity
- 20 Hour Exception:
- The time limit is longer than 20 hours.
The main purpose of this criterion is to avoid situations where content closes, changes or updates before the user has finished reading or filling something in.
What is a time limit?
A time limit is anything that causes a change which is set by a timer and without the user being in control of it. The most obvious is being logged out of a site after a time of inactivity but there are plenty of other examples:
- Page refresh
- Content updating
- A carousel moving on
- Content scrolling or changing
- Time limit on entering content, e.g.
You have 15 minutes to submit your response.
Ways to fix the problem
One way of solving the problem, is to give the user a method to turn off the time limit. For example, you might set an inactivity time limit to ensure that if a user steps away from the screen and doesn't return, it logs them out. This can protect their data, especially on a device in a public place. However, if a person with a mobility impairment is in their own home, with nobody else around, they may want to turn this feature off. If the doorbell rings, going to answer it, deal with the person and getting back to the device, could take longer than the timeout. It would be frustrating to have to start over.
Adjust the time limit
Another option is to give the user the ability to adjust the time limit, increasing it by at least 10 times the original. So if the original time limit refreshes the page after 30 seconds, give the user the option to change this to at least 5 minutes. That way, if they read very slowly, they can still finish reading before the page refreshes.
Extend the time
When the time limit is running out, the user can be warned about what will happen and given the opportunity to extend the time. For example, if they are responding to a post in a forum and they haven't finished their answer yet, a pop-up could warn them that they must submit within the next 30 seconds, and give a button to allow another five minutes. They must be allowed to select this option at least ten times.
There are some situations where it is okay to have a time limit.
Real time exception
One example of a real time exception is an online auction. This requires many users to interact in real time, submitting bids quickly. If you allowed a user more time, the item could be sold and then a new bid come in. It wouldn't be fair on the first buyer to allow this.
Another exception is where removing or extending time limits would invalidate the activity. The time limit is essential. This might include things like online exams, where the candidate has 3 hours to complete the paper. Of course, disabled users can be allocated extended times, but once set, the time limit is essential.
20 hour exception
This time limit was set because 20 hours is longer than a waking day. So once 20 hours has past, it is okay to log a user off, end their session, or whatever else you need to do to protect their information.