Caucusing in Iowa With a Disability: Red Tape and Unreturned Calls

“Maybe they feel like they’re being inclusive, but I think they’re really ignoring a lot of underrepresented people,” Jane Hudson, the executive director of the advocacy and legal services group Disability Rights Iowa, said of the Democrats, who are getting most of the attention because the Republicans don’t have a competitive race. “The disability community really exemplifies how the party says they’re going to be doing things and then don’t really do things.”

The Democrats say they are doing their best and have made great strides since 2016.

“This year’s caucuses will be the most accessible ever because of the tireless work of disability activists and the groundbreaking changes the Iowa Democratic Party has put forth,” said Catherine Crist, the chairwoman of the party’s disability caucus. “While our work is far from finished, our yearslong effort to shift the culture and expand access for people with disabilities has borne historic progress.”

In response to a detailed explanation of the criticisms, Mandy McClure, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Democrats, said they had “made it easier for Iowans to request accommodations, get in the room faster and caucus at a site that’s more convenient to them,” and also hired an “accessibility outreach team.” But according to Disability Rights Iowa, which has corresponded with party leaders for a year, that team — led by Ms. Koski — was supposed to be in place in the fall and wasn’t until this month. (Ms. McClure gave no on-the-record comment on the timing.)

Mr. Britt, the Republican spokesman, gave a similar account. “Nobody cares more about making sure that every Iowan can participate that wants to do so than the state party,” he said.

Advocates said these statements were as upsetting to them as anything else: evidence, in their view, that party leaders wanted credit for making caucuses accessible but had tried only halfheartedly to actually make them so.

“What can be really frustrating is the amount of verbal pandering that both parties have done, saying that oh yes, they love people with disabilities in their party, they want to be inclusive, especially of veterans with disabilities — and then they drop the ball this hard,” said Annie Matte, voting outreach coordinator at Disability Rights Iowa, who is trying to help others get accommodations while struggling to get her own: She has severe migraines that can be triggered by loud noises and bright lights, and she needs a dark, quiet room available if that happens.

Part of the problem is out of the state party’s hands. Because of security concerns, the Democratic National Committee rejected a proposal to let people caucus by phone. And without a remote participation option, caucuses are inherently inaccessible.