Let’s say for a moment that you’re in the market for some quality mustache wax.
You find the type of wax you want and start to go through the checkout process on the company’s website, when suddenly your waxless, wildly unkempt mustache starts to tickle your nose, so you go to the bathroom to try to straighten it out. It’s a story as old as time itself.
Forms and processes like this one, once started, sometimes timeout if the user steps away or is inactive for a prolonged period of time. While this can often seem sensible or necessary, such timeouts could pose issues for users with different types of cognitive disabilities. Someone experiencing limitations in memory, language, focus, or executive function may not be able to complete this mustache wax purchase in one sitting and wish instead to take a break and come back to it later. In this case, if a timeout were to result in a loss of user data, it could prove very frustrating for the user, especially if they were not properly warned of the timeout beforehand.
As content authors, the best solution for this problem is to preserve any data the user may have inputted before the timeout long enough for the user to return and resume what they were doing. WCAG has set 20 hours as the minimum amount of time you should retain user data during a timeout. If you determine that it would be impractical or unsafe to hold onto user data for such a long period, then you should warn users beforehand of how much time they can remain inactive before a timeout would be triggered, so they can plan accordingly.