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Shoulder Surfers: Why using the screen curtain/screen shade is important

How to prevent other students from 'shoulder surfing' in class - snooping - to see what is on your computer!

The screen curtain, also called a screen shade, is a feature that turns the display off – making the screen go black. This feature is typically used for privacy and is only available when using a screen reader. The screen reader continues to be fully functional when the screen curtain is on, even though the screen is black. Apple uses the term ‘screen curtain’ while JAWS and NVDA use the term ‘screen shade’. 

TSVI, Jennifer Soltis, recently shared her student’s experience with a screen reader curtain/shade:

“I taught my Fusion and JAWS users how to use screen shade and we talked about why you might want to use it (privacy/others spying on you). Then one student told me that she used the screen shade in one of her classes today after a student several rows back started reading her screen out loud. I’m so proud of her for using her tools and I did let the gen ed teacher know–both as an alert about the student looking at her screen and to celebrate my student’s tech skills.”

Jennifer went on to share:

“I’ve had several students recently make comments about eye charts or smaller fonts—“Wait, people can actually read that?!” They don’t always realize that other people can read their magnified work. I’m glad that I started including screen shade/work privacy in my general discussions on privacy. (I used to just talk about how your medical information, including your eye condition, is private and your teachers need to know your accommodations but it’s ok not to share details beyond that.)

Another creative TSVI commented that she calls these snooping onlookers, ‘shoulder surfers’. What a fun way to think about potential snoopers! In the classroom, ‘shoulder surfers’ can be a polite way to start a discussion about privacy when taking tests or completing assignments.

Pros and Cons of using a screen curtain/shade in the classroom

Mainstream classroom teachers should be made aware of the screen curtain/shade and why a student may use this feature in the classroom. Depending on your student, you might need to create clear guidelines for when the screen curtain/shade should or should not be used.

While personal privacy is typically why we encourage students to use the screen curtain/shade, there are other reasons. Enabling the screen curtain saves battery power; the brighter the screen, the more drain on the battery. For students with residual vision, turning on the screen curtain, forces the student to listen to the screen reader announcements and to learn the screen reader commands. There might be a time that a peer might make a hurtful comment about the large font size. And, unfortunately, there are instances that another student might take the opportunity to cheat by looking at your student’s screen. 

BLV students are just like their peers – you may work with a student who tries to be sneaky! This student might decide to surf the web or message a friend instead of completing an assignment in class. With the screen curtain activated, the classroom teacher does not know what the student is actually doing on the computer. At any time, the classroom teacher can and should ask the student to turn off the screen curtain, to make sure that the student stays on track. Educators frequently “shoulder surf” to determine if a student needs assistance as they complete their assignments.


Different screen readers have different commands to turn the screen curtain/shade on and off. 

JAWS Screen Shade 

There are several options:


To ask NVDA to turn on screen curtain while using it, go to NVDA menu > Preferences  > Settings > Screen Curtain. Check “use screen curtain” checkbox to enable or disable the screen curtain.

Editor’s Note: To my knowledge there is not a specific keyboard command that toggles the Screen Curtain on and off. If there is a keyboard command, let us know!

VoiceOver on a Mac

VoiceOver on iOS

(iPad and iPhone)

Note: The action for the 3-finger gesture is the only action that changes according to whether the Zoom settings is turned on or off. Zoom uses three-finger gestures to activate, change the level of magnification, and to scroll the screen. The Zoom setting is found in the Settings app > Accessibility > Zoom (toggle on or off). 

Android Talkback

by Diane Brauner

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