I was going through my phone recently and found a funny video of myself performing karaoke at a party that took place at a blindness conference I attended last year. While I have zero interest in sharing the video on the internet, I do have an interest in making people laugh and smile at different events by singing some of my favorite songs on karaoke machines. Here are my tips for participating in karaoke for people with blindness and low vision.
First, what is karaoke?
In this context, karaoke is an activity involving an amateur singer singing on top of a pre-recorded background track of a popular song. There are many classic karaoke songs that can be found online or on streaming websites, but each event generally has a list of songs that are available. There are entire businesses that specialize in karaoke entertainment, but I’ve only ever done karaoke at a party, conference event, or similar casual environment.
What to expect when singing karaoke
When one of my friends asked me what to expect when going to a karaoke event, I jokingly told them that they shouldn’t expect much of anything in terms of talent, which makes it all the more fun. When a person gets on the stage, the text of the song illuminates on a screen so that they can follow along, though I typically ignore this text. The person then sings the song of their choice while following along to the music, and sometimes gets the audience to join them in singing as well. It can be a nervous experience for some, though I think it’s a lot of fun.
Choosing a song
Most events I have been to have a book of songs available for singers to choose from. It helps to have a specific musician or band in mind when searching for songs, since it can be easier to ask for help finding a specific artist or band compared to looking for a specific genre. Since my favorite song is “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, I never have to worry about finding it in the book as it’s available everywhere. My friend was telling me that they had someone help them find a song they liked so they wouldn’t have to worry about using their phone as a magnifier when browsing a book filled with over a thousand songs.
Looking up the lyrics
Since the screens onstage can be difficult to read, I highly recommend looking up the lyrics to the song in advance using a phone or tablet. Personally, I do not perform any song that I do not know all of the lyrics to, but some friends say that they find it calming to have the ability to look up the lyrics quickly if they need them. Another one of my friends prefers to stand close to the screen that displays the lyrics so that they can follow along.
Getting up to perform
In a video one of my friends shared with me, they used their cane to get to the stage area and then put it on the floor so that they wouldn’t lean on it while performing. Another friend said that in that type of situation they would prefer a human guide to help them since there may be obstacles that are not on the floor, such as a speaker or similar obstacle. Since there isn’t a lot of moving around once you’re on stage, I don’t think holding onto a cane while performing is completely necessary.
Performing a song
I have a couple of tricks for performing karaoke in front of a crowd when it’s difficult to see the crowd in general:
- Choose a song that people can sing along with, and encourage them to sing along if you can. With my favorite song, I encourage the audience to sing with me during the chorus so that I don’t feel nervous if I hit the wrong notes
- Move around if you feel a lot of nervous energy. When I sang karaoke with my friend at senior prom, it helped for them to dance and move around the stage instead of just standing in front of the microphone. I don’t recommend doing any potentially dangerous dance moves though or trying to jump off the stage
- Don’t backpedal and correct yourself when singing, or even panic about remembering the words. Karaoke is made for amateur singers and no one is looking to find the next superstar, they are just looking to have fun,
Organizing a karaoke event for a visually impaired audience
While I have never organized a karaoke event for a visually impaired audience, I have met many people who have and attended accessible karaoke events at conferences, so here are some tips on making events accessible:
- Give guests multiple ways to read lyrics. This can include accessible print copies, a large high-contrast display, or a refreshable Braille display
- Instead of having a visual countdown for when a singer should start singing, have an audio countdown or other cue such as a buzzer that will vibrate when it is time to begin
- Make sure the stage is free of any potential obstacles and avoid shining bright lights directly on the stage. Most events I have attended have the same light level for the entire room
- Avoid flashing or strobing light effects that can be disorienting for people with visual impairments or other neurological issues
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I love being able to sing my favorite songs with my friends at events, and I hope this post encourages other people with blindness or low vision to embrace performing their favorite songs at a karaoke event. Even if you aren’t going to an event any time soon, it can be fun to just grab a few friends and sing along to karaoke tracks on a streaming service on a weekend night- or even a weekday night.