Rania Dima

Rania Dima, member of the National Federation of the Blind, poses with her guide dog after testifying before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government hearing to examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday.

Urbana resident Rania Dima, an aspiring historical fiction author and self-proclaimed lover of the written word, has become desperate to quickly learn Braille. A rare condition called Usher Syndrome has robbed her of the ability to read print and computer screens, and as her hearing has faded, so has her reliance on audio screen readings.

Delays within the U.S. Postal Service, however, have impeded Dima’s ability to learn her new means of reading and writing. She sends and receives resources for learning Braille through the Free Matter for the Blind program, which essentially classifies such items as first-class mail. Prior to the pandemic, Dima’s materials arrived within one to two weeks.

The wait is now one to two months, she testified to members of the U.S. Senate.

“I have a profound hearing loss, and I am losing the last of my hearing,” Dima, a member of the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind, said during the hearing. “From my perspective, the federal, state and private agencies that support me are being thwarted, and I feel marginalized.”

Dima’s testimony, part of a hearing Tuesday for a subcommittee that Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland chairs, underscored the impact USPS delays have had on the state’s residents.

“Your testimony shows the very real world impact of these unacceptable delivery delays that we’re working to get to the bottom of,” Van Hollen (D) said to Dima during the hearing.

The session, highlighted by testimony from USPS Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb, was a chance for Van Hollen and fellow senators to better understand the systematic shortcomings contributing to mail delays that have plagued the country for more than six months. As inspector general, Whitcomb’s job is to conduct independent audits and evaluations of the USPS.

Changes that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy implemented after taking office last year have compounded the pandemic’s battering of USPS infrastructure, including staffing shortages amid increased mail demand, especially last summer, Whitcomb said during the hearing.

Van Hollen said Maryland has not been spared from the USPS woes. He said its inefficiencies have been especially pronounced in the Baltimore area.

“For the last year, I’ve been hearing from thousands of constituents — thousands — about the slow postal delivery, and I share their frustration and their anger at this unacceptable situation,” Van Hollen said during the hearing.

The senator is looking to reverse what he called “shortsighted” cost-cutting measures — including slashing overtime and removing machinery from facilities — that DeJoy has overseen.

The USPS “needs new management now,” Van Hollen said to the News-Post, adding that he believes DeJoy’s removal should come as part of an immediate overhaul of the agency’s leadership.

USPS employees can attest to the agency’s flaws, and one did on Tuesday. Longtime postal worker Brian McLaurin said that he’s seen a “slow, steady decline” in the agency’s service.

Postal workers are less empowered to move mail in a timely manner, he said, adding that it used to be a “serious problem” for mail to be left behind. McLaurin said he has seen mail sitting in a post office facility for up to three days, the result of insufficient staffing, processing issues, machines breaking down and facilities having fewer machines.

The implications of these delays can be as trivial as a birthday card arriving late and as serious as impairing Dima’s ability to learn a new language as her sight and hearing slowly vanish.

Dima isn’t as far along as she’d like to be in her Braille training. With needed resources taking longer to get to her, she’s unable to receive timely feedback from her writing instructor before moving onto her next lesson.

The drawbacks of Dima’s slowed Braille learning were evident Tuesday. She had a fellow member of the National Federation of the Blind convey the bulk of her testimony.

“Had these delays not happened, I would most likely be able to read my statement to you today,” Dima said. “But I can’t.”

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