BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Maryland U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen and other congressional leaders want the post office’s inspector general to investigate a program for the blind and visually impaired after reports of delayed delivery of materials under the program.

USPS’ Free Matter for the Blind or Other Physically Handicapped Persons program delivers free braille books, audiobooks and other materials to people who cannot read conventional print because of a disability. The program is funded by Congress.

According to the National Federation of the Blind, resources sent through the program are regularly being delayed in the mail, and they say that is causing a significant hardship for the blind and physically handicapped community.

“This is an area we’ve spotlighted because we’ve seen a particularly big problem when it comes to the delivery and it has a particularly harmful impact,” said Senator Van Hollen. “These are individuals who are incapacitated in many ways when they don’t receive these materials in a timely fashion.”

Urbana resident Rania Dima testified about how the delays have been impacting her during a hearing on Capitol Hill last July.

“I began the process of learning braille and that material is sent to me through the United States Postal Service as free matter for the blind,” Dima said.

Dima has slowly been going blind and deaf because of a condition she has called Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic disease that affects both hearing and vision.

In 2019, she started to learn braille. In 2020, she said the delivery of the materials through the program got slower and at times, took one to two months to arrive. She says the delays are longer than what she has been experiencing with other mail services.

“As somebody who is trying to learn braille and reliant on the mail to deliver these books to me, I do feel marginalized and gaslighted because again the service is provided to us and so we should be grateful but it’s not. I don’t know where the mail is going,” said Dima.

John Owen, the director of the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Print Disabled says deliveries that they send for the program have been a problem since mid-2020.

He told WJZ that Free Matter for the Blind materials are supposed to be treated with the same priority as First Class Mail.

“The mail that we send free matter is important that it shouldn’t be treated as second class mail,” Owen said.

Senator Van Hollen says the inspector general has indicated that they will start an investigation into the program and he expects a report by June.

Stetson Miller