Avid Fans of: Music and a Memory

Avid (adjective) – having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something. It’s more than just our company’s namesake. Passion for our work and for the things we love is part of our core values. In this recurring series, we’ll share some of the things we’re Avid Fans of with you. 

While shuffling through a Spotify playlist or cleaning out old CDs, you may stumble upon a song that transports you back to a time that you may have forgotten. Songs carry sentimental meaning and value. Your “Oldies but Goodies” playlist may take you back to a time in college with friends, or a classic rock song may be the tune that your dad constantly played in the car. In this edition of Avid Fans Of, we’re sharing some of our favorite memories that are tied to music or a specific song.  

A little girl and her father at the beach.

Abi Ingoglia – “And Your Bird Can Sing” by The Beatles 

It is the summer between 7th and 8th grade and I am sitting in the front seat with my dad in his old convertible on the way to the beach. While driving over the bridge to Jones Beach, the Beatles Revolver album played on shuffle. The memories almost seem out of a movie. Our car was packed with towels, sunscreen, and our cooler with iced tea and sandwiches. Our family was squished into the two-door car, but it never felt cramped. Listening to songs like “And Your Bird Can Sing,” I can feel the sun hitting the top of my head. I can hear my younger brother and I yelling every time we saw deer on the side of the road towards the beach. Forming these core childhood memories around the Beatles has made me one of their biggest fans and I continue to listen to their albums every day. I will always associate this band and their music with my relationship with my dad.  

Alex Russell – “Dinah (Take 2)” by Thelonious Monk

 High school means different things to different people – but for me, it presents a very ambivalent mix of feelings; some good, some awful. One thing I might never have found without going through high school language arts, however, is Jazz. As much as I love rock (Lou Reed, Warren Zevon, Joe Walsh) and film scores (Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, Tom Holkenborg), Jazz – particularly Bebop – remains my all-time favorite genre. My first year in high school introduced me to writers whose works I still admire – Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs – as well as the music of their time: Jazz. Exploring Jazz music on YouTube late at night or on (very) early weekday mornings, I came across a magical, iconoclastic album of solo piano works by the great Jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk (appropriately titled “Solo Monk”). While each song is imbued with his signature spirit, rhythm, and humor, the very first number – “Dinah (Take 2)” – remains one of my favorite compositions and, without fail, always brings me back to a time underscored by discovery. From falling in love with Beat writers to writing my own poems, “Dinah” is a song that encapsulates and illuminates this formative part of my life.

Ashley Dobson – “Life is a Highway” – Rascal Flatts

There are so many songs that have memories for me but one that really sticks out is the Rascal Flatts version of “Life is a Highway.” Yes, the one from the Cars soundtrack. I turned 16 the year this version came out and my dad and I were listening to music while filling balloons with helium for my birthday party. We were doing an absolutely terrible job with this particular task because we just took turns singing to each other with our ridiculous helium-induced chipmunk voices. My mom, who was handling all of the real party responsibilities, came home to find us laughing hysterically on the kitchen floor as we attempted to give her a concert. “Life is a Highway” was a real showstopper of a number and it has remained a running joke for years. To this day, my dad and I can immediately make the other person laugh if they start singing the song. My dad even snuck a clip of the song into our father-daughter dance at my wedding!

Susan Hernandez – “Ojos Así” – Shakira

I had too many choices to pick from, but this song reminded me of my favorite times as a little kid. When I hear this song, it reminds me of trips my family and I took when I was at least 4 years old. I was obsessed with Shakira’s Laundry Service album. I’d make my parents listen to it every single time we went to “Water Safari” (a water park in New York). I remember at some point my parents hid the CD from me, so I’d stop asking to play it, but they ended up giving in and playing the whole album again for me. “Ojos Así” is overall a great song that I still listen to today with this small memory of traveling with my parents.

Rossana Gonzalez – “Let’s Groove” – Earth, Wind, & Fire

I really have to thank my family for putting me onto some great music. For example, they didn’t know how to speak English, but there was huge fanbase of The Beatles in Cuba when my mom was younger. She even said people would get the infamous Beatles’ haircuts. They also LOVED Motown in my house. Even though you wouldn’t be able to understand the words, the music was so good that it was still popular in my neighborhood. Names like Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Donna Summer, The Supremes, and The Temptations were regularly used in my house. Thinking of these songs makes me reminisce of how my family would take me on drives with my mom’s booklet filled with labelled burned CDs and playing them throughout the drive. Sometimes, we wouldn’t even have a destination. We just cruised and listened to music. My younger sister, who is still in high school, now goes on these drives with me and has Motown karaoke sessions while we drive. My partner has to endure my karaoke sessions where I’m all three Supremes.

Steph Mace – “La Copa de la Vida/The Cup of Life”Ricky Martin

My heart melted when I learned that my musical crush, Ricky Martin, was going to perform at the biggest event in 1998. I was a soccer-loving teenager set to watch the World Cup on my grandparent’s couch in Paris while the World Cup was taking place in various stadiums around France. My heart jumps every time Ricky Martin exclaims, “Do you really want it!?” followed by the horns, drums and infectious techno sounds. It became the repeat offender in my CD player before soccer practice. When I arrived in France, I was surprised to see my grandmother was also obsessed. Every day, we would tune the TV to the latest match and she would sing all of the parts with her various Spanish, English and French accents. I would catch her multitasking and singing along. Apron on, my mamie would pretend she was Ricky by waving her hands in the air while preparing delicious meals. My grandfather and I would encourage her by clapping along. This image of Mamie Martin still makes me laugh and treasure how this song brought my worlds together. Some have deemed it to be the best World Cup performance, but that’s just as controversial as the G.O.A.T. discussion.

Amanda Roberts – “Waka Waka” – Shakira

I was visiting my friend in Madagascar who was wrapping up research for her PhD. She had just gotten engaged, and her local friends decided to throw a pirate-themed surprise party. At one point, the party spilled out into a neighboring lot, which attracted the neighborhood children. They gathered around (understandably) expecting to be entertained by the white people dressed as pirates. Not one to disappoint, my friend suggested we sing something that the kids might know. One friend suggested Easter hymns. While I wracked my brain to think of a hymn, another friend yelled “Waka Waka!” The world cup had taken place in South Africa just a year prior, so Shakira’s Official World Cup theme was fresh in my head. We burst into the chorus:

Tsamina mina, eh, eh
Waka waka, eh, eh
Tsamina mina zangalewa
This time for Africa

The children sang and danced with us as we sang the chorus on repeat. We handed out pirate-themed party favors to the children as we wished them well and headed back to the party with giant smiles.

Virginia Arroyo – “Listen to the Music” – Doobie Brothers

My dad loved music. He played the drums in a band called “The Flintlocks” when he was in high school in the Philippines. As a child, I recall hearing Smokey Robinson, Fleetwood Mac, Whitney Houston, Hall and Oates, and Michael Jackson, to name a few. But we all have that one song that we keep on “repeat” and for my dad, that was the Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music.” My 12 year-old self would scream….NOT AGAIN – but now I’d give anything to hear my dad say, “one more time….” and play it again. Thankfully he was able to reunite with his band members (pictured) before he passed away.

Around The Table With Dr. Philip Plotch

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection. 

Around the Table graphic with a headshot of Dr. Philip Plotch.

Name: Dr. Philip Plotch

Company: The Eno Center for Transportation

Where to Find You: LinkedIn, Twitter

What drew you to transportation research?

I care about cities. One thing I realized in graduate school was that thriving cities need good public transportation. I became a huge advocate for better public transportation and, as a naturally curious person who likes to share what he learns, research is a natural place for me. Research, oftentimes, is just trying to find an answer to a question.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the transportation industry today?

Money is always the biggest challenge. The second would be how to get more people walking and biking because it’s better for their health and our planet.

What are some of the projects you’re currently working on at the Eno Center?

I just finished a report that identified strategies to improve the hiring of bus operators. That’s timely because there is a shortage of bus drivers all across the country and, as a result, transit agencies have been cutting services.

I’m also coming up with ideas to help transit agencies do a better job managing large projects. That’s important because in the U.S. we spend more money to build rail projects than any other country.

I’m also helping the City of Chicago improve the way they’ve structured their transportation agencies. Like many cities, Chicago’s transit system is about to face a financial crisis because ridership is down and the federal government’s COVID relief funds are drying up.

What’s some of the best advice you’ve received in your career so far? What advice would you give to someone starting out in the transportation infrastructure industry?

Here are four things worth keeping in mind:

  • The old Boy Scout adage – hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
  • A 90-year-old engineer taught me that if you learn from your mistakes, you can become good at what you do. If you learn from other people’s mistakes, you can become excellent at what you do.
  • It’s OK to take a job that pays less. I’ve done that a couple of times and it’s always worked out for the best. Before you take a new job, make sure that you like your supervisor, the organization you’ll be working for, and the work that you’ll be doing.
  • You always need to improve your technical skills (such as learning a geographic information system, or GIS) and soft skills (such as learning how to write a persuasive memo and making a great presentation).

You have written two books and have a third one coming out in May 2023! What’s the most challenging thing about writing a book?

For the books I’ve written, you have to be curious, persistent, and patient. I often want to find out who made a decision and why. Like, what were governors thinking and who was whispering in their ears?  That means you have to ask lots and lots of people and go through lots of documents.

Sometimes I want to answer a question that is current, like why did New York Governor Andrew Cuomo decide that it was worth spending tens of millions of dollars to accelerate one project at the risk of disrupting subway service to millions of New Yorkers?

Sometimes it’s a more historic question. I was going through the Rockefeller Family’s archives at a mansion north of New York City, reading a letter written by Governor Rockefeller about a meeting he had in the White House with President Nixon. I was curious what really happened in that meeting and remembered that Nixon taped a lot of his Oval Office meetings.

So, I contacted the Nixon Library and they retrieved the tape for me so I could actually listen to what the Governor and President talked about. It was super fascinating. (Check out Chapter 4 of Last Subway to read about it!)

In my new book, Mobilizing the Metropolis, I dug deep into the ways that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has had dramatic successes and equally dramatic failures. The Port Authority is an important government agency for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it was the very first public authority in the U.S. – now there are more than 30,000 copycats.

Of all the roles you’ve fulfilled, from professor to urban planner, researcher to author, which one do you most associate yourself with?

I’d have to say “storyteller.” My articles, reports, and books all teach people lessons, share suggestions, and warn them about potential problems. That’s what I’ve done as a Dad, also. Here is a good transportation-related lesson turned into a bedtime story…

“Once upon a time, a boy named Nelson was thinking about what he wanted to do when he grew up. He could run an oil company and a bank like his Dad. Or, he could buy the world’s biggest yacht and sail every day in Maine (in the summer) and in Florida (in the winter).

Nelson didn’t have to worry about money because his grandpa, John D. Rockefeller, was the richest man in the history of the world. After giving it a lot of thought (and after ruling out architect, firefighter and police officer) Nelson decided that the best job would be President of the United States.

Now, it’s not so easy to run for President and win – even if you are super rich. So, he decided he would start with being the Governor of the state of New York and then run for President. And that’s exactly what he did.

After he was elected Governor, he got the state to build really big things like office towers, hospitals, apartment buildings, and even colleges. The state borrowed billions and billions of dollars and started building these big projects even though it was at a time when a lot of New Yorkers and their companies were moving out. That meant New York was collecting less taxes to pay for big things.

But, Nelson didn’t worry about money. He also didn’t worry about how New York’s subways were having problems. Many of the train stations were 60 years old with peeling paint and bad lighting.

The train tracks were getting old, too, and that meant the trains had to go really slow or they had to stop and wait until the tracks were repaired. Water was ruining some of the stations because some of the old pipes were leaking. The subway workers were having trouble fixing the old trains because the buildings they worked in didn’t have all the right tools and equipment they needed to do a good job.

Nelson didn’t worry too much about money and fixing old stuff. He wanted to build new train lines – then everybody all over the country would hear about them and people would want Nelson to become President. So, that’s what he did.

New York started building new train lines and the President of the United States asked Nelson to be his Vice President.

But, all the money the state had borrowed had to be paid back. Because there wasn’t enough money to finish Rockefeller’s new train lines, all the construction had to stop. And things got even worse on the subways because so much money had been wasted on new train lines that weren’t going to be finished. Every day on the subways, there were fires because the trash on the tracks wasn’t getting cleaned and it was catching fire on the electric lines.

The trains also broke down a lot. Sometimes when you rode the train, the doors opened up in between stations but not at the station. That was pretty dangerous.

And, this is what the subways started to look like:

Things got even worse on the subways… (Courtesy photo.)

So, here’s the lesson, boys and girls, that the richest boy in the whole world did not know. If you have a house with a leaky roof, you shouldn’t buy a vacation house until you fix the leaky roof. The same thing with transportation – you shouldn’t build new train lines until you fix up the old ones.”

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought with you to share?

I lived in Korea for all of 2021 and I could have eaten bingsu every single day. Here’s a photo for those of you who aren’t familiar with the magical combination of ice, rice cakes, condensed milk and black beans.

Bingsu – a milk-based, shaved ice dessert with sweet toppings – is a staple of Korean cuisine. (Courtesy Photo)

We could all find a table in L.A., Seattle, New Jersey or northern Virginia and get some pretty good bingsu. But, I suggest we all fly to Seoul and get some great bingsu, instead. While we’re there, we’ll go for a ride on what is arguably the safest, most extensive, and easiest to use, transit system in the entire world. Even Nelson would have been impressed.

Around the Table with Marquelle Jones

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Icon for an Around the Table interview with Marquelle Jones.

Name: Marquelle Jones

Organization: Hendley Elementary (DC Public Schools)

Where to Find You: Twitter

What first sparked your interest in education? What do you like most about teaching?

It started from me coaching football. It made me realize how much I loved working with kids and how I had a talent for explaining things to children. What I love most is the positivity that the kids display day in and day out. It really brightens my day.

What are some of the challenges you have faced while teaching?

Early in my career I struggled a lot with classroom management. Over time I’ve learned better strategies for classroom management.

What is the best thing about teaching the third grade?

Honestly everything, but mostly just the creativity they show. They are definitely showing more and more creativity by the day, both in artistic expressions and in their storytelling through journal entries.

What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?

The best advice I received was that you can always start strict and lighten up, but you can never start soft and then try to be stricter.

What advice would you give to someone looking to become a teacher?

To make sure you listen to your students and remember these little people have a lot of feelings and emotions.

What are some ways people can donate or support your school and DCPS teachers? Are there any fundraisers happening now or in the near future?

They can send donations and supplies to area schools. We don’t have a current fundraiser going but we will soon for our cheerleaders to get uniforms.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?

I’m a pretty big gamer. I could play games all day and I like reading a lot.

I heard that you love sports! What is your favorite sport to watch/play? And who is your favorite team?

My favorite sport to watch and play is football. Ironically enough, it calms me. Unfortunately, my favorite team is the Dallas Cowboys.

Have you ever coached any sports, either as part of the DCPS or in your community?

Yes, I currently coach flag football both here at my school and in my community through a wonderful organization called Flag Star Football.

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought to share?

Mac and cheese. I love mac and cheese, it is my favorite side dish and I’m very critical on how I judge people’s mac and cheese.

3 Takeaways from TRB 2023

It’s considered the Super Bowl for transportation research.

Every January, the attendees rush through the streets of downtown DC with rolled up posters in hand, hotel reservations made a year in advance, and name badges with ribbons proudly displayed, many of them looking forward to snapping a pic in front of the large-lettered “TRB” sign.

Hundreds of presentations are projected on screens throughout the day; exhibit halls are filled with eye-catching booths; business cards are exchanged with VIPs at networking dinners; and let’s not forget, the long day usually culminates in exclusive after-parties.

These are a few of the reasons why the Avid Core team attended the Transportation Research Board’s Annual Meeting 2023, better known as TRB.

Avid Core’s Stephanie Mace and Amanda Roberts pose in front of the infamous TRB sign.

Our team has been connected to TRB since 2009. We were responsible for developing outreach materials for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)’s

Surface Transportation Environment and Planning Cooperative Research Program (STEP) booth and we began to understand the importance of this annual gathering of innovative transportation minds.

Planners, engineers, decisionmakers, techies, researchers, educators, and others from all over the world travel to this annual meeting. We continue to recommend the TRB annual event to our clients and partners. Now, with the recently funded Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, opportunities to modernize infrastructure are ripe. 

With this in mind, we wanted to share three of our takeaways in case you missed this year’s event:

1. Stay home, Colin. One of my favorite presentations focused on North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT)’s creative use of social media to disseminate important safety information. Carly Olexik, chief communications officer, and Aaron Schoonmaker, social media coordinator, had the entire room laughing as they shared lessons learned on their simple, yet clever, viral campaign. This was proof that despite a limited budget, social media content can dramatically catapult the number of engagements and shares in a short amount of time.

NCDOT’s winter weather safety campaign timeline and results.

2. There’s a committee waiting for you! Not sure where to begin or how to get involved? Don’t worry. TRB is known for having a task force or committee that meets every person’s interest area. The committees are very well organized and offer great networking opportunities. Volunteers are always welcome to present, run sessions or even help plan. Look through the directory and sign up as a friend – it’s a great way to make an impact in the transportation space.

3. This is a tight knit, supportive community. Innovative minds flock from all over the world to try and solve some of the most challenging transportation-related issues. We were so happy to meet some of our clients for the first time in person, reconnect with other partners, and make new connections. Presenters are willing to discuss their research, eager to share their presentations, and are open to learning more about your suggestions. It is a very welcoming environment and you’ll feel a part of it once you attend your first TRB event.

Avid Core’s Amanda Roberts reunites with partners from Cogstone and Kearns & West at the WTS event.

We look forward to seeing you at TRB 2024!

Celebrating 2022 at Avid Core

2022 was Avid Core’s biggest year yet!

We brought on new clients, helping them achieve their goals by connecting the right people with the right information.

We earned new certifications, including our Small Business Administration 8(a) certification and our Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and Small Business Enterprise (SBE) firm as certified by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT).

We honored by our community, earning the title of “Best Government Contractor in Prince William County” for the second year in a row.

We grew our staff by three and continued our internship program. Members of the Avid Core team also presented at four conferences across the country and attended dozens of events and webinars.

Our team had a lot of fun socializing, strategizing, and celebrating together both in-person and online.

Thank you for all your support this year. We can’t wait to see what 2023 brings!

Around the Table with Johna Hutira

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: Johna Hutira

Company: DAWSON

Where to Find You: LinkedIn

What drew you to the world of archeology?
I always had an interest in the past, even as a kid.  I had a high school teacher who had a degree in anthropology which furthered my interest. I was a political science major for my first two years at Arizona State University, taking anthropology classes to fill my science and humanities requirements. I was offered a job doing archaeological survey on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and realized I could actually do archaeology as a career. Paid to go camping — A dream job for a child of the 70s!

What do you think is the biggest challenge the industry is facing today?
It’s a tie! First, the death of qualified archaeological technicians. While many companies pay a living wage, many do not in order to secure contracts by being the lowest bidder. It is very difficult to attract young people to an industry where the wages vary so widely. Entry-level technicians generally go from job to job as they build their resumes. In addition, it is rare to have one organization with fieldwork full-time, 52 weeks per year, so the field technician lifestyle can be rather nomadic.

This leads into the second issue: Clients (federal, state, and private sector) want the cheapest option. In order to be the cheapest, a company may pay a low wage, short them on per diem, and ask to work unreasonable hours at an unreasonable pace. This leads to disenfranchisement of the labor pool and dangerous conditions leading to injury. So, the two are interrelated. Call your congressman and tell them not to be so cheap!

What current projects, conferences, or events are you working on now or in the future?

DAWSON, the company I work for, is doing projects all over the U.S. Just last week I was in Vermont doing a project for a federal client. As for conferences, the Annual Meeting for the Society for American Archaeology is coming up in March in Portland, OR. Looking forward to that!

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
Again, it’s a tie. From a mentor in the archaeological compliance sector: Business is business. Friendship is friendship.

From an archaeology professor: Sometimes, you gotta learn to be an asshole.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to join the field today?
Specialize! Have a skill other than “dirt” archaeology. GIS, bioarcheology, archeobotany (my specialty), and geomorphology are all good options.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I have a hobby! I do fused glass pieces. Right now, I am mostly doing pieces containing cremated pet remains. I had several containers with various well-loved pets in the house and was thinking about what to do with them (watch Hoarders – you’ll understand). So I experimented with fusing the cremains into glass pieces.

It works quite well, so now I do it mostly for friends and friends of friends. I don’t do it for money – just a promise of a donation to an animal charity. I have done bowls, plates, candle holders, and Christmas ornaments. Currently, I have Coco Chanel (a lovely chihuahua) who is going into some glass cacti pieces.

If we were literally “around the table” right now, what food would you have brought to share?
Cookies! Lemon ones. . .

Avid Fans of: Holiday Movies

Avid (adjective) – having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something. It’s more than just our company’s namesake. Passion for our work and for the things we love is part of our core values. In this recurring series, we’ll share some of the things we’re Avid Fans of with you.

The winter holidays, much like Halloween or Valentine’s Day, have garnered their own ever-expanding cinematic subgenre. From animated classics like How the Grinch Stole Christmas or A Charlie Brown Christmas to live-action favorites like A Christmas Story or Elf, these films (and many, many more) often help set a festive tone and provide wonderful, end of year entertainment for viewers of all ages. This month the Avid Core team looks back at some of our all-time favorite holiday live-action and animated films.

Alex – Die Hard (1988)

John McTiernan’s classic action thriller Die Hard is probably no one’s first choice for holiday movie night. Following the hair-raising adventures of New York cop John McClane as he attempts to stop a team of ruthless thieves in an LA office building on Christmas Eve, Die Hard is a masterpiece of action cinema. While it doesn’t have much in the way of Christmas miracles, carols, or impactful life lessons, Die Hard provides an exciting, holiday-adjacent cinematic break in between all those back-to-back-to-back A Christmas Story reruns on TBS, as well as ample humor, character, and practical special effects. 

Sarah – Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)

We all know the story. Scrooge, three ghosts, Tiny Tim, epiphany, redemption. Dickens’ novella is infused into the Christmas season for good reason — it reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas (clue: It’s not greed, consumerism, or apathy) and it shines a light on our responsibility to care for those in need, especially children. What could possibly improve this 179-year-old classic? Drumroll… Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Rizzo, and award-winning actor Michael Caine. That’s right, the Michael Caine plays Scrooge with great conviction, opposite dozens of Muppets. Dickens himself is also woven into the film as the first-person narrator, embodied in Gonzo, which is genius. This feeds us some of the best unspoken lines from the book and Dickens and Rizzo have some giggle-worthy side conversations. The Muppets are hilarious and endearing and somehow the story doesn’t lose any gravity. Oh, and the music is amazing. 

Ashley – The Holiday (2006)

No one makes a cozy rom com quite like Nancy Meyers and The Holiday is my ideal blend of holiday sweetness, love stories, and beautiful settings. The casting is SPOT ON – Cameron Diaz! Kate Winslet! Jude Law! Jack Black! And there is a storyline for everyone. I giggle at Mr. Napkinhead. I tear up as Arthur finds the strength to walk down the aisle and be honored. I swoon as the leads fall in love. I sing along to “Mr. Brightside” as well as all of the holiday musical favorites. I try to have the self-control to save my annual rewatch for Christmas Eve but sometimes the season calls for an earlier holiday home swap!  

Steph – The Grinch (2018) 

I can never look at whipped cream in an aerosol dispenser the same after watching Illumination’s version of The Grinch.  My daughters and I laughed so loud that we probably could be heard in the theater lobby. The hysterical scene where Fred, the lovable, wild moose, discovers the magic of whipped cream will forever live rent-free in my brain. It’s the reason why we went back to the theater to watch the movie a second time and have since purchased it, streamed it and laughed until tears were shed. Recently, we’ve had to limit the number of times my youngest daughter can watch it in a day. She’s that addicted to Fred and Max the loyal dog. We’re all fans of the animation, the narrator (Pharrell Williams), the hip-hop music created by Tyler, the Creator, and obviously the valuable lessons learned about acts of kindness and compassion. 

And since I had a really difficult time deciding, I had to add in an honorable mention for A Christmas Story. As a Jewish kid with immigrant parents, this was my Christmas reference guide. I was shocked when I learned that my college roommates didn’t get bunny suits and BB guns for Christmas.  

Rossana – Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

This was a hard one to answer. I’m really big on Christmas and Halloween movies because they are very STACKED genres. Though I have a list longer than a CVS receipt for favorite holiday films, I will say Home Alone 2 is up at the top. What makes me love this movie most is that it was actually the first movie I got on VHS when I came from Cuba to the US. At the time, I didn’t know how to speak English except maybe a handful of words, but you don’t need to understand all of it to know what’s going on with Kevin. When I watched it as a kid, I began making makeshift traps to catch burglars in my family’s apartment (though it ended up just annoying everyone in the house). The day my family put up their Christmas tree, I watched Home Alone with my little sister and partner. It felt like a warm hug directly infused into my soul. 

Amanda – Scrooged (1988)

Although it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed this Bill Murray classic, I have fond memories of watching this movie as a child with my father during the holidays. I loved the fairy (Ghost of Christmas Present) and was scared of the bullet-ridden corpse of his old boss (even though it was kind of funny when he tried to drink and couldn’t… you know, cause of the holes). This movie may not be a traditional Christmas heart-warmer, but it embodies my family’s quirky sense of humor.

Susan – Winter Sonata (2009)

For holiday movies, I never really sat and chose a movie to watch. They were always on cable TV, so I watched what was on. However, I watched this film called Winter Sonata which is an anime based on a Korean Drama; a must-watch that came out in 2002.  It’s not a traditional holiday movie but it is one I really enjoyed watching. The movie is beautiful, sweet, and really grasps the melodrama genre. It makes the audience appreciate sharing and receiving love during the holidays. I’m a sucker for romance and drama, so anything in those genres will always be in “my watchlist.” I know a romance movie gets me glued when I want to watch clips of the movie again right after I watched it, which is what I did with this film. Everyone should give the film or show a chance because they are both great.

Virginia – The Preacher’s Wife (1996)

Two words: Whitney Houston. If I had to pull together a soundtrack of my pre-teen and teen years, the best of and even the not-so-known Whitney Houston ballads would be a staple. A closer runner up is Home Alone, the first movie I saw in the theater and one of the few movies I know almost word-for-word. It’s a classic!  

Bre – Almost Christmas (2016) 

Who doesn’t love a good wholesome movie that encompasses family, drama, comedy, and a good love story all in one dysfunctional family? Almost Christmas is a movie that reminds me that no matter how much a family goes through, they can always find the happiness, love and joy that melds them together.

Accessibility on Screen: 5 Helpful Tips for Writing Effective and Inclusive Alt Text

Welcome to our series of posts about accessibility in communications. Accessibility is the practice of making information, activities, and/or environments sensible, meaningful, and usable for as many people as possible. This is super-important because persons within your audience all have different needs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15 percent of people around the world—that’s over 1 billion—live with a disability. Imagine how many people would never get your message if you didn’t make accessibility a priority!

Accessibility compliance is essential for organizations required to abide by Section 508 and related policies. More importantly, actively pursuing compliance is part of social responsibility and best communications practices. At Avid Core, we are committed to providing equal access and opportunity to people of all abilities and helping our clients and colleagues do the same.

Outside of my work at Avid Core, I write articles about movies and TV shows. Part of my process involves finding images to go along with what I write. Typically, the supporting imagery I use ends up being mostly film stills or, occasionally, poster art. After I find my images and format them accordingly, I go about composing the corresponding alt text.  

Alt text, or alternative text, is a set of words that describes the appearance, context, or function of an image or graphic used on a webpage or within a digital document like a PDF. Screen reading devices, used by individuals with visual impairment, need well-constructed alt text to fully transcribe given information. Screen readers read alt text (along with every other component) out loud, helping the user understand what the image is and how it relates to everything else on the page. Alt text can accompany anything from photos and illustration to graphs and charts.

For example, online articles about the making of a film often come with behind-the-scenes photos. If a particular photo shows the film’s director giving instruction to the production crew, then the alt text for that image could include the following: “The film’s director, speaking through a megaphone.” For example:

Alt text example: A film director speaking through a megaphone
(Image credit: Yahoo Entertainment, Yahoo.com)

But there’s a lot more that goes into writing effective alt text. Here are some tips that will cover alt text composition, the kinds of visuals that require alt text, and how to ensure that your alt text operates in the most inclusive way possible.

Tip #1: Be Specific and Concise

When writing your alt text, it’s important to be as specific and concise as possible. It may take some practice, but alt text is most effective when it doesn’t describe the entire image, just the main components or actions within.

The first thing to consider is the image itself and the general content it’s supporting.

Ask yourself what the intended audience is supposed to be getting from the image in the first place. Reflecting this in the alt text is crucial.  When using a generic or stock image as a visual aid, it’s important that the alt text ties into what the surrounding content is about.

For example, if an online article detailing a certain director’s approach to working with actors ends up using a stock image, then the alt text for that image needs to have direct links to the article. For example:

Alt text example: Director [insert name here] speaks with the film’s two stars
(Image credit: stock photo, Pexels.com)

Additionally, it’s important to avoid overly descriptive or conversational language, as these fillers can often pose a distraction to people using screen readers. Screen readers often cut alt text off at around 125 characters, so brevity is of the essence!

After creating the written content and finding the right associated imagery, alt text is the final puzzle piece that leads to a cohesive and accessible presentation.

Tip #2: Know When to Provide Proper Names

Because I generally write about well-known franchises, like Star Wars or movies and shows based on characters from DC Comics, writing alt text is easy. All I typically have to do is point out who the people and characters in the image are and name the movie or TV show that they’re appearing in. For example:

Alt text example: Henry Cavill as Superman in Zack Snyder’s Justice League
(Image credit: HBO Max)

In this instance, the alt text points out the major or most relevant elements in the picture — who the subject is and what media they’re from. Since it’s an iconic character being portrayed by a famous, contemporary actor, naming the actor is key (as well as naming the film).

Generally, well-known people, places, or things should be referred to by their proper names as this helps keep the alt text short and sweet.

When it is not a well-known person, you will want to describe the person in the image. Personal identifiers relating to identity and representation, whether it deals with sexual orientation, gender, race, or anything else, should always be treated with the utmost care, diligence, and respect. It’s also important to avoid making assumptions; if you don’t know how the individual being depicted identifies, use “person” instead of “man” or “woman.”

Tip #3: Ensure Your Alt Text Adds Value

With alt text, it’s best to avoid phrasing like “an image of” or “picture of.” The HTML code used in website coding already identifies images and pictures as such and this kind of phrasing also takes up unnecessary space at the start of your alt text. That kind of phrasing is typically reserved for captions, which are different from alt text.

When composing alt text for an image that already comes with its own caption, simply copying and pasting the caption text is not good practice. Captions and alt text serve separate but related functions and should be treated as such. For example:

Caption: Director David Lynch on the set of Twin Peaks Season 3
Alt text: David Lynch, a film director, speaking through a megaphone
(Image credit: Yahoo Entertainment, Yahoo.com)

When it comes to shorthand or abbreviations, it’s generally better to avoid them altogether. If initials must be used in your alt text, the full name or title of the subject must be typed out first, then follow it up with the initials. When typing out initials, use dashes, spaces, or periods in between each separate letter so the screen reader can read it properly.

Tip #4: Look Out for Typos

This may seem obvious, but as with any written work, spell-checking is a must. Misspelled words can greatly affect user experience, cause interruptions or confusion, and basically and unnecessarily impede what should be a smooth experience.

In terms of basic readability and user interface, well-constructed (and error-free) alt text can help a user maintain their concentration and rhythm as they go through a webpage – especially one that may come with a broken image. This is important even for those not using screen readers. When an image fails to load, the alt text will indicate what the missing image was supposed to be. If effective alt text fills in for that “absence,” it can help users not feel left out as they continue interfacing with the rest of the content.

Tip #5: Understanding Different Image Types

In addition to imagery like photos and illustrations, there are also decorative images that are often used on webpages or digital documents. These graphics are used to visually break up the content on a page; they don’t need alt text if there’s no meaning or informative function assigned to them. Inserting the word “null” into alt text fields pertaining to decorative images, if possible, helps screen readers skip over them during the transcribing process. 

In addition, button images, which are included for navigational purposes, serve as a function key which the reader can use to submit something or simply click on for more information. Alt text for button images is particularly important as it explains their intended purpose/functionality. It also comes in handy when images fail to load.

Additional Resources for Alt Text

Alt text continues to be a crucial component of website building and general internet usage. It helps individuals with visual impairments or who have a learning disability to better engage with online content on a day-to-day basis.

Online communication is an ever-present element in people’s education, work spheres, and leisure activities and it’s therefore important to help make sure that all users are considered when producing and formatting online content. Popular online platforms, like WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and many others, have alt text options that let their users optimize their alt text for a better, more inclusive, and hopefully more equitable experience.

  • To learn more about screen reading technology and how alt text benefits users with visual impairment, the University of California – San Francisco created an excellent educational video