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The Bleak Market: Why Vancouver residents with disabilities sell life-saving equipment, prescriptions online

The Bleak Market is shining a light on the devastating truth of living in poverty with a disability in Vancouver.

People living with disabilities in Vancouver are resorting to selling their life-saving equipment and prescriptions online to make ends meet and this group is hoping that shining light on the underground market will inspire political change. 

Canadian grassroots disability advocacy group Disability Without Poverty (DWP) has developed The Bleak Market, a kind of faux digital marketplace that mimics real-life posts that previously appeared on platforms like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and Kijiji. 

The site was set up in the hopes that humanizing these stories will encourage support for Bill C-22, a federal act that is looking to reduce poverty for persons with disabilities by establishing the “Canada disability benefit and making amendments to the Income Tax Act.”

“The reality is that people with disabilities are being forced to make ends meet however they can, and that often means selling their essentials behind the scenes—we just rarely see these transactions out in the open," says Amanda Lockitch, a Vancouver-based member of DWP and one of the individuals behind The Bleak Market.

"Once we started sourcing real-life stories for the website, we were shocked at how abundant they were in Vancouver. Everybody had a story to tell,” she shares.

Visitors to The Bleak Market will see listings for goods such as medication, mobility scooters, wheelchairs, diabetes sensors, and canes. When they click "buy now," however, they are directed to voice recordings of people with disabilities recounting their lived experiences.

A button at the bottom of the page that says "prevent this sale" redirects the visitor to a page urging them to show support for Bill C-22.  "It’s too late to prevent this item from being sold. But you can stop sales like these from needing to happen," reads the page with a link to facilitate an email meant to be sent to elected officials.

Why was The Bleak Market Created

“When we were brainstorming ways to raise awareness and create momentum for Bill C-22, we looked to the stories of real people with disabilities and their experiences with poverty. When we discovered that this kind of transaction was common, we thought bringing them to light through an online market was a powerful and visual way to showcase these stories to Canadians," says Lockitch.

And while the reaction from people has been overall supportive overall, she says, people are also shocked to learn about the conditions people with disabilities have been facing.

In order to receive financial or health support from the government, one must be designated as a Person with Disabilities (PWD) and the maximum monthly benefit available is $1428.50, though, according to Lockitch, the vast majority of Canadians with disabilities receive less.

"As everyone living in Vancouver will know, even $1,500 a month is not enough to survive in this city," she says.

Indeed, in April 2023, the average price for an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment in the region was $2,263, up $55 from March. Add food, utilities, and the additional costs of disability, such as medication, accessibility aids, physio, and transport to and from various hospitals, and the monthly expenses aren't even close to the benefit.

To get the word out, DWB posted several of the Bleak Market stories to online marketplaces in Vancouver as if they were current but the contact address directed potential buyers to their campaign platform.

"There’s a misconception that our nation’s most vulnerable, people with disabilities specifically, are taken care of," she says. "However, that is simply not true. We need more support and more attention for the cause...Disability poverty cannot afford to wait. Raising disabled Canadians out of poverty is past due."