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Disability Diligence: Expat Life

Two hearing aids held to look like a heart shape.


I thought I had all of the bases covered when it came to living in the Philippines with my hearing loss disability. Nope!

The Disability Decision

The decision to move to a foreign country for those with a disability is never quickly made. People with disabilities understand their limitations and research their planned host countries very well.

Many expat message boards have their own forums that are filled with questions about accessibility in foreign countries.

I’ve needed hearing aids in both ears for years. About four and a half years ago, I suddenly lost the hearing in my right ear. That was my “good” ear. That left me with only one semi-working ear.

I knew what I was up against, moving here. I did my homework. Modern technology helped me with things like banking and communicating and my wife would be my ears when we went out.

The Disability Curveball

I thought I was well-prepared for any problem that might come up. I was wrong.

Something triggered my bank’s “Suspicious Activity” alarm. I lost online access to my bank account. 

After four years, my bank should know that I live here.  I make several international charges a year for plane tickets and hotel rooms for my wife and me. I had no idea what had happened.

And I had no idea what to do now that the only option on my bank’s website was to call.

Call! Sure. With my hearing that would be useless.

Learning What’s Not

A text telephone machineThe onscreen notice did give the TTY (text telephone) access numbers so I thought I might be able to do that. I don’t have an actual text telephone but the Android version on my cell phone is supposed to have a TTY setting.

Then I learned something I didn’t know: Philippine phone networks don’t have TTY service. The old phone cradle/keyboard type wouldn’t work if I had one. The TTY setting isn’t even available on the Android phone menu here.

I guess there’s a good reason to not include TTY capabilities here. Everyone already communicates via text message. But I needed to “talk” to my US bank. They won’t accept a text message for conducting business.

Then I learned something else: my bank doesn’t have a text-based support platform of their own. They use Twitter.

Right. Twitter.

At noon here in the Philippines, I sent the bank’s Twitter support a Direct Message about my problem. I got a reply saying they wouldn’t be available until 7 AM Eastern (U.S.) time. That was seven hours away.

When they finally replied, the fun began.

So that they can serve their huge customer load, after each reply they make the customer goes to the bottom of the stack. Then they work back down to you. Then they send a reply to your reply and put you on the bottom of the stack again. They continue like that, serving customers in order.

Eight hours later they asked for my phone number and said the Fraud Department would call me via “relay”.

More What’s Not

A graphic for those with a disability showing how an IP Relay worksAn IP Relay Service is a service crewed by Relay Operators who act as a go-between with two callers. The operators speak to hearing callers and type to impaired callers. They swear not to reveal what they “hear” in conversations.
Then I found out something else I didn’t know: although there are hundreds of Filipinos in call centers across the Philippines acting as Relay Operators for countries including the U.S., the U.S. relay service isn’t available for international calls.

An Odd Resolution

My issue resolved almost by accident. I happened to mention to my bank’s Twitter support person that my financial advisor, Bob, used the bank’s secure email service with me once. I asked if the Fraud Force could use that to communicate with me. They aren’t allowed to do business by email at all but the Fraud Force called Bob and he agreed to help me.
Since he’s talked to my wife and me over the phone and in person, he vouched for her and me to the Fraud Force in a conference call. Satisfied, the Fraud Force took the lock off of my online access.
I still think that they restricted my access for a dumb reason but that’s an argument for me and my bank to settle.
It turned out that my wife, who acts as my ears, did so once again.

Think And Rethink

a young girl, deep in thoughtThis frustrating situation did teach me a couple of things. I learned to have enough cash on hand in case this happens again. I also learned that my financial advisor is a damn nice guy.

The most important thing I learned is that expats like me with a disability need to not only think before we move to a foreign country but also rethink things once we’re there.

If I’d realized that my bank only has text-based support on Twitter, I would have learned earlier about the lack of TTY and IP Relay support here. That might have sent me to my advisor, Bob, before a problem occurred.

Think and rethink your disability, expats. We cope, don’t we?


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One Response to Disability Diligence: Expat Life

  1. Queeniebee July 28, 2018 at 2:56 PM #

    Sorry that you had to go through that JD, but I’m glad that it had a positive outcome. It’s true, doing ones homework before getting here, and thinking about all the possible scenarios while here is something we all have to plan for–especially if one has a particular issue or disability.

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