Allow users to save data after a session timeout

A website that allows users to retain unsaved data after logging back in
Image description: A website titled, "Welcome back!" Below there is text that says, "You were on flashcard 23 of 30 before your session timed out." and a button that says, "Resume session." To the right is an illustration of flashcards.

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Why This is Important

Saving data for people after a session timeout is accessible to those who need time, support, and error recovery. This encompasses a diversity of disabilities and needs.

Blind and visually impaired people use screen readers to interact with websites and apps. A screen reader is a type of assistive tech that converts things on screen to audio and/or braille. It's important that things are understandable and interactive to screen readers.

Keyboard accessibility is essential for people who do not use a computer mouse (which might be because they have unpredictable or very specific movement due to a motor disability). Many Blind and visually impaired people also use keyboard interactions in order to use their screen reader.

Error support is accessible to people with a diversity of disabilities. A cognitive disability might affect how a person perceives and understands things. A physical disability might lead to unpredictable movement. Other factors such as environment, stress, and multi-tasking may also lead to errors.

In order to be accessible, gestures and interactions must account for people with physical and motor disabilities, who might have unpredictable or very specific movement.

It’s important to save data after a session timeout occurs because it saves any changes they made and allows them to pick up where they left off. In some cases, they could lose a significant amount of data and have to start all over again.

This is accessible to a diversity of disabilities - for example, if they have a motor or cognitive disability and require more time to complete a task, if they use a screen reader or alternative navigation and the website is more difficult to navigate on that device, if they have an attention disorder and are distracted by other tasks, etc.

This is also accessible to people who are multi-tasking in stressful situations, such as caring for children, working in customer support, meeting an important deadline with multiple aspects, etc.

This references WCAG criterion 2.2.5 Re-authenticating (Level AAA).

Level AAA compliance is considered more difficult to meet because it requires more resources to fulfill. It also might encompass conflicting access needs (meaning what is accessible to some might be inaccessible to others). Use your best judgment of your target audience and your team's capabilities to determine if this is a pragmatic goal to reach.

How to Implement This

Saving data after a session timeouts is connected to other timing-related guidelines.

This refers specifically to the situation where the user session ends and automatically logs them out after a certain amount of time. The user then has to re-authenticate (meaning log back in with their unique user credentials) to return to what they were doing. This is pretty common for apps that contain sensitive data, such as financial and legal apps.

When the user logs back in, all the data from their previous activity should be saved. That way, they can return to where they were in the process.

How to save data depends on the platform you are building for. IBM recommends a few methods for saving data.


How to Test This

Manual Test
Semi-Automated Test
Automated Test
  • Conduct this test if there is a session time limit. Submit data without completing it (such as partially filling out a form).
  • Wait for the user session to time out, then log in again. Make note if the previously entered data was saved.


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