Technical know-how, memory help music lover live with blindness

Pieter Huysamen was blinded in an acid attack
Picture: Guy Rogers

Presenter does not miss a beat

A blind Port Elizabeth radio presenter is using technical know-how to translate his passion for music into a popular weekly radio show.

Starting with a music base of 1 500 songs which he has loaded onto his trusty Samsung S6, Pieter Huysamen formulates and produces Bay FM’s weekly Musiek met Feel and then goes on to host it on Sunday evenings.

The easy-listening 6pm to 9pm show focused on music from 1960 to 2000 has attracted a large following but it is safe to say few are aware that Huysamen is blind, and fewer still know how it happened.

Huysamen said on April 11 15 years ago he had looked over the wall of his Charlo home after the gate bell rang. A man had approached and thrown sulphuric acid in his face.

The attacker ran off, leaving Huysamen reeling in shock and in great pain. He received firstclass treatment at St George’s Hospital, but two months later the doctor had to remove both his eyes.

“It was the beginning of total darkness,” he said.

“I’m now 50 years old but since the night of the attack it has felt like time stopped.”

Clearly distressed recalling the attack, Huysamen was unwilling to discuss the circumstances saying only: “I did nothing to deserve this.”

His attacker was convicted and jailed for an effective six years.

He said isolation and fear had been major challenges in his recovery and admitted that they still sometimes assailed him.

Realising he had no choice, he slowly rearranged his small South End house so he knew where everything was.

“There’s almost nothing a sighted person can do in his home that I am unable to do in mine,” Huysamen said. He learnt to depend on his other senses and his two miniature Doberman pinschers, Ounooi and Jessie, are a comfort and a key part of his early-warning system.

Doing chores without sight was a challenge and he had accomplished many of them using his cellphone, he said.

Complementing the talking software on his S6, one among a host of apps he uses allows him to take a picture of a till slip, for instance, and then to hear a verbal description of the figures – or photograph the instructions on an old canister of Doom to check the safety instructions.

Another app allows him to buy electricity and then dictates the new number. He punches the number in by feeling his way around the electricity box’s touch pad where he has used adhesive rubber dots to accentuate the numbers.

He also uses these on the stove, microwave and washing machine.

But mostly his use of these appliances – and the three remotes that control his sound system, TV and DVD player – are an act of prodigious memory.

Huysamen said he had learnt a huge amount about radio with Bay FM, had met a wonderful group of people and loved his Sunday sessions.

“Songs from the era we focus on pop into my head the whole time so my music database is always growing, allowing me to keep the music fresh for the listeners,” he said.

Huysamen said sometimes in the early morning he recorded the sound of the birds singing and sendt them to his friends.

He used to love the sea and going to the beach, he said.

“I don’t go down there any more, but sometimes when there’s an easterly breeze blowing I can smell that wonderful fresh sea smell.”

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