How Players Present and Perceive Disability on ‘The Circle’

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by Jessie Ace |

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“Open Circle Chat!” 

Have you seen the reality TV series “The Circle”? It was first shown in the U.K. on Channel 4, and there’s now a U.S. version on Netflix. It is well worth a watch. 

I started watching it because of the psychological premise. It’s similar to “Big Brother” in that strangers move into separate apartments in the same building, and they undertake challenges set by “The Circle.” The most popular player at the end wins £100,000 ($100,000). 

The unique part of the show is that the players never meet; they only interact via the Circle app on the monitor screens in their apartments. The Circle is like a social media platform that encourages players to “rate” each other daily. The pressure from being publicly “rated” leads to a lot of brown-nosing and fakery.

Because everyone interacts through this platform, nobody knows if the person they’re speaking to is being genuine or a “catfish” — someone posing as a different person. It’s astounding. 

The top-rated players are known as the influencers, and they have the power to block another player. The lowest-rated players leave, more players join, and the group dynamic shifts. New partners align once again. 

I bring up “The Circle” because a couple players on the second series in the U.K. had disabilities, and they “came out” in very different ways. It made me think about how people present their disabilities in real life. 

One player, Georgina, is a beautiful young woman with Crohn’s disease. From the first day she set up her profile, she was out and proud, calling herself a “Crohn’s survivor” in her bio. 

The reactions from the other players were impressive. Most said she was brave for being so open about her illness, but one person thought attention-seeking was her way of attracting votes.

Another player named Paddy has cerebral palsy and uses crutches. Because his disability is so visible, he decided to keep it a secret in the Circle. Paddy only shared photos of his face and of him sitting down so he wouldn’t give anything away. 

The players assumed he was a “normal” guy, and he made lots of friends in the Circle because of his infectious personality. As soon as he came out about his disability, people flooded the Circle Chat with messages of support and compassion. The program showed other players crying and saying, “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?” 

He said that he waited because people usually see his disability first and judge him for it when they meet him. He wanted to see what it would be like for people to get to know him without the crutches. He came out so honestly with people in the group. They automatically assumed he was a real person rather than a catfish, and didn’t think he was doing it for attention like one person thought about Georgina. 

What I found interesting was that people reached out to these disabled players with understanding, and shared that they knew someone else with a disability. I have also experienced this reaction after I’ve told people about my multiple sclerosis

How do you disclose your disability to others? If you had the choice, would you hide your disability or be honest about it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Penny-Marie Wright avatar

Penny-Marie Wright

When I found out I had MS I was telling everyone, I was so unsure about everything that might happen & didn't really know anything about it even after getting 2 huge packs of information on it from neurologist. Now I also have Fibromyalgia & it's the same. it helps when others say they have it also & talk to me about it. I know some people prefer to keep this stuff secret which is their choice.

Hanley Kanar avatar

Hanley Kanar

I realize you are attempting to report about this show in a neutral way, but it seems half baked to write about how being out about being chronically ill “reads” as attention seeking without also commenting on how common it is to feel tied into a disability split identity. Able bodied people only like disabled people who keep it to themselves and try to accomplish everything as though their disability didn’t make it twice as hard. You are seen as brave and inspiring if you don’t ask for or pretend you don’t need accommodations, but if you are out about your disability your motives are instantly scrutinized.

Alisha Idia avatar

Alisha Idia

I don't disclose my disability to others. I have MS but fortunately I don't have a physical disabilitiy. When I was first diagnosed a decade ago, I told a couple people and they started talking about it every time we met up. It was out of concern and love, BUT I'm not my disease and I hated the continuing worry from them, sooooo I ended up telling them I was misdiagnosed and, wow, what a difference this has made in my life. I see my MS specialist / neurologist regularly, get yearly MRI brain and spine scans and twice a year I get an infusion of the MS drug Ocrevus. I hated that I had to fib to the ones I came out to right after my diagnosis, but it really helped my mental health to do it. Now only my MS support group, my BFF and my husband know. So, bottom line, whatever works for each individual. Whatever works for YOU is best for YOU. xo


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