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Buying Guide: What to Pack in Your Interpreter Bag

Buying Guide: What to Pack in Your Interpreter Bag

Interpreter Tips   |  Tuesday, September 22, 2015

By Jillian Winn

You’ve probably seen many articles on Signing Savvy by the amazing Brenda Cartwright - she’s a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language books. She came up with this great guide of what to pack in your interpreter bag, so when she told us she was giving the keynote address at the Illinois’ Annual Statewide Interpreter Conference, we wanted to show some love to the interpreters by send a few fully stocked interpreter bags with her for giveaways.

I did all the shopping for these bags, so I thought I would pass along tips for finding and buying the items. I went to several stores when shopping for these bags - Dollar Store, Five Below, Target, Rite Aid, Office Max, Home Depot, Meijer, and Amazon. So, I can save you a few trips by telling you where I found the best items and the best deals! Of course, the availability in your local stores may vary (products in stores like the Dollar Store and Five Below vary by location and season).

Of course, if you just want fast and easy, you can get everything from Amazon (there is a link to every item on Amazon) and if you have Amazon Prime you get unlimited free 2-day shipping (I have to admit we have a bit of an Amazon addiction in our house - you just can't beat free 2 day shipping when you need something fast!). But it really makes more sense (in terms of quantities and price) to buy some items in your local stores (unless you really want a case of gum instead of a single stick!).

Tip: Buy Kits


Items that come in "kits," such as an office supply kit, sewing kit, fresh breath kit, nail kit, and/or first aid kit, are great because they are self-contained - making it easier to stay organized and find things in your bag. Plus, many times kits that include several items are cheaper when purchased as a kit, versus purchasing each item separately. Of course, you should make sure you really want the items in the kit, because a kit doesn’t make sense when you really only want one of the items.

For example, the office supply kit I found includes a mini stapler and was the same price or cheaper than buying a mini stapler by itself (and the kit also included rubber bands, paper clips, tape, sticky notes, AND had it all in a cute case so you’re not digging to the bottom of your bag looking for a paper clip). The only negative of this kit is that everything is miniature sized and you could find higher quality items if you purchased them individually, but I was looking for something inexpensive and small to fit in the bag - it’s just for use on-the-go and not meant to replace full-sized supplies from your office.

Found at the Dollar Store


You gotta love the Dollar Store! You can't go wrong with paying $1... at least most of the time.  Sometimes, there are items that you can actually get for under $1 other places. For example, the pack of travel Kleenex that I got at Target for $2 was a better deal than the $1 pack of travel Kleenex at the Dollar Store because it had more than double the number of Kleenex packages in it (though the Dollar Store Kleenex were fun colors!).

Found at Five Below

  • small umbrella
    We really wanted an umbrella for the bag, but wanted to keep the price down. Umbrella’s can be really pricey! I looked several places for a $5 umbrella and lucked out at Five Below. Home Depot also had a good deal on tall, walking-stick type umbrellas for only $5 (I actually bought one to keep in my car - it is really large, so it can cover me and the kiddos in the rain), but they were too large to put in the bag (although they were tempting!). Five Below had plain colored umbrellas, which was just what I was looking for. They also had fun collegiate umbrellas, which I would have gotten if it was for myself (if I hadn’t already bought the umbrella from Home Depot!), but I figured interpreters in Illinois might not appreciate non-Illinois, college-themed umbrellas! The Five Below umbrellas are great little umbrellas that get the job done if you are just dashing from your car to a building. The negative (and positive) to these umbrellas is that they are inexpensive... but that means they aren’t going to survive high winds or last a lifetime. If you’re looking for a reliable umbrella that can really weather the storm, you might want to invest in a better quality (and more expensive) umbrella.
  • small bag
    It’s recommended that interpreters don’t wear jewelry while interpreting, so a small bag with a few pockets that can serve the dual purpose of holding any jewelry you may have on while you work and organizing other items in your bag is a great find. Five Below had these great little “pencil” bags in the school section that were great because they were small, had multiple pockets, and were transparent so you can easily see into the bag to find your stuff. The link to Amazon is the same bag. (This was significantly cheaper at Five Below than other stores.)
  • mini flashlight
    The mini flashlights at Five Below seemed to be better quality than those I found at the Dollar Store.

Found at Target


Found at Amazon

  • office supply kit - rubber bands, stapler, staples, paper clips, tape, sticky notes
    I found this cute office supply kit at Target, but they only sell pink ones at Target and I didn’t want pink for our interpreter bag. So then I was on the hunt for a non-pink office supply kit. I found others, like the one at Target but in other colors, directly from the manufacturer - Yoobi, which seems to be a cool company because similar to Toms, they have the mission of “one for you, one for me” (that's what their company name Yoobi stands for) where for every item purchased they donate an item to a classroom in need in the U.S. However, I was under a deadline and couldn’t wait for standard shipping, so I headed to Amazon where I knew I could get free 2 day shipping through Amazon Prime. Luckily I found an office supply kit on Amazon and it was even less expensive - mission accomplished! 
  • blank note card
    In my not-so-free time, I occasionally design invitations and thank you cards for close friends, so I am very familiar with the cost of stock paper and note cards. These note cards are a great value - I haven’t been able to find a better price for blank note cards and envelopes anywhere (and I've shopped around!). They are great to use as a base if you are crafty or have kiddos who like to draw or paint, and they are also good just as a plain, simple, no-frills blank card.
  • refillable water bottle
    If they had a support group for people who collected too many refillable water bottles, I’m pretty sure my best friends PJ and Todd would hold an intervention and enroll us. They were over one night for dinner and opened the cabinet to get a glass for water and saw our collection of refillable water bottles on the top shelf and asked if we were stocking up for the zombie apocalypse. (The first step is admitting you have a problem.) At any rate, not just any water bottle will do! We’ve accumulated plenty of refillable water bottles from conferences, swag from other companies, and on our search for the best water bottle, but most of them get freecycled or sent to Goodwill. The one type of refillable water bottle that we love (and collect) are the Contigo AUTOSEAL® bottles. After long nights with our babies, we found that regular glasses didn’t mix well with our sleepy delirium and the Contigo AUTOSEAL® bottles were a lifesaver (or rather - carpet, floor, and clothing saver). The autoseal mechanism in the caps are pure genius because liquid never leaks. We have tried and (liked) the AUTOSEAL® Cortland Water Bottle, AUTOSEAL® Madison Water Bottle, AUTOSEAL® Kangaroo Water Bottle with Pocket, and AUTOSPOUT® Flip Chill Kids Water Bottle. They are all great, but we prefer the Cortland because the mouth is slightly wider than the Madison and the Kangaroo (so it’s easier to put ice in it). The Flip Chill is perfect for kids - it keeps liquids cold for a long time and our 2 year old loves it - a no-spill top is a necessity for a 2 year old! (It's not Contigo, but if you're looking for a non-plastic sippy cup, I really like the Eco Vessel Insulated Sippy). I also tried the Contigo Purity Glass Water Bottle, but I really missed not having the autoseal lid and the opening is a little too small for my liking... so the search for the perfect glass water bottle is still on! And really, although I tell everyone I know about my love for the Contigo bottles, Contigo did not send us money or free water bottles - but they should! :-) - we just really like their Autoseal water bottles. Signing Savvy just purchased Contigo AUTOSEAL® Cortland Water Bottles with the Signing Savvy logo on them - of course I’m excited about that!!

Now, you know more than you need to know about where to shop for your own interpreter bag! See all of the items in our infographic below.

What to pack in your interpreter bag

Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.

Signing Savvy is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon properties. That means Signing Savvy may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Signing Savvy will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us continue to improve Signing Savvy!


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Deaf Awareness Week 2015

Deaf Culture   |  Sunday, September 20, 2015

By Jillian Winn

Deaf Awareness Week this year is September 21-27, 2015. Deaf Awareness Week, also called International Week of the Deaf (IWD), is celebrated annually and ends with International Day of the Deaf on the last Sunday of September. Deaf Awareness Week is celebrated by national and regional associations of the deaf, local communities, and individuals worldwide.

The purpose of Deaf Awareness Week is to increase public awareness of deaf issues, people, and culture.  Activities and events throughout Deaf Awareness Week encourage individuals to come together as a community for both educational events and celebrations. Find more information on Deaf Awareness Week.

Since 2009, the World Federation of the Deaf has created themes for International Week of the Deaf. The theme for 2015 is “With Sign Language Rights, Our Children Can!” Find out more about the 2015 International Week of the Deaf.


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New Program Helps Build ASL-to-English Search Feature While Helping You Learn and Study ASL

New Program Helps Build ASL-to-English Search Feature While Helping You Learn and Study ASL

Site News   |  Wednesday, September 9, 2015

By Jillian Winn

What’s that sign mean?

Have you ever seen a sign and wondered what it was, but wasn’t sure how to look it up? Signing Savvy is a great resource for looking up signs, but you have to type in an English word and then you can see the sign(s) for that word. We don’t currently have the ability to type in a description of a sign and then tell you the English meaning for that sign… but we hope to in the future!

Signing Savvy has partnered with researchers at the University of Washington who are doing a study to build data so an ASL-to-English dictionary feature could be possible. The technology they are testing is called ASL-Flash. When you use ASL-Flash, you see a sign and enter its features. The ASL-Flash website then learns the varied features that somebody might see when viewing a sign, which will help improve the quality of results returned in future searches by other users.

Use ASL-Flash to practice ASL and as a study tool for class

ASL-Flash makes learning and practicing ASL easy. All videos come from Signing Savvy. It shows you sign videos and quizzes you on the meaning. If you are taking an ASL class and using either of the Signing Naturally or Master ASL! textbooks, you can use the site to quiz yourself on the chapter you’re studying. In addition to being quizzed on the meaning of signs, you describe what the sign looked like. Not only is it a helpful study tool, but by describing signs through the ASL-Flash website you also help the research project at the University of Washington to build the data needed to create an ASL-to-English search feature.

It’s an easy and free tool to use. Use ASL-Flash to practice sign language, study signs from your course textbooks, and help us build the ASL-to-English search of the future! Get started now at

ASL Flash Explained


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Interpreter Q & A: When Interpreters Omit Information

Interpreter Q & A: When Interpreters Omit Information

Interpreter Tips   |  Tuesday, September 1, 2015

By Brenda Cartwright

This article is by Brenda Cartwright. Brenda is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, and well known presenter. Brenda is the author of the Dear Reality column in the VIEWS publication from Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and the book Encounters With Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios. She will be contributing blog articles for Signing Savvy on interpreting, Deaf culture, and answering a series of "Dear BC" interpreter questions.

This article is part of our "Dear BC, Interpreter Q & A” series, which answers questions on interpreting and Deaf culture from multiple perspectives.

Dear BC,

I have noticed that an interpreter that I team with nearly every week (she has been an interpreter for over 20 years, and trust me, she never lets me forget it for one minute) tends to omit information. Either she doesn’t think it’s important, or she just doesn’t understand it herself. Forget suggesting giving her "feeds" from me, I’ve "only" been nationally certified for 5 years, and still am a baby in her book. My problem is that she always asks me to do team interpreting assignments with her, and asks for nobody else. I know you’re going to tell me to say something to her, but our community is so small I can’t afford to anger her, financially or professionally. How can I handle this?

Concerned Teammate

An Experienced Interpreter's Perspective:

Your situation might not have the negative conclusion you seem to fear. There is no reason at this point to think that saying something to her will anger her. Start by telling her that you have noticed that she omitted "xyz." Be specific. It is possible she has legitimate reasons for omitting certain information. Give her a chance to explain herself. For example, there are legitimate reasons why someone interpreting a "how to" computer software class will not sign everything a chatty trainer might say. You may get the opportunity to see something from a different perspective. If, however, it is as you infer - that she is omitting valuable material - ask for her perspective in a positive way that does not put her on the defensive and indeed make her angry at you. Choose to say something like, “What leads you not to include that?” instead of asking her a defensive question like, "Why are you leaving that material out?" Depending on her answer you may have to make a choice of how much you want to work with her or what else you might say or do.

Experienced Deaf Consumer's Perspective:

I had to fight and advocate for ten weeks to have an interpreter replaced in a team setting during a 15 week graduate class. The supervisor of interpreters finally came and observed the interpreter’s skills and agreed that in spite of her certification and years of experience, her skills were indeed inadequate in that particular setting. Had her team interpreter reported her, I would not have had to go through ten weeks of missing valuable classroom information and weeks spent advocating on my own. The supervisor was in fact reluctant to replace the interpreter because of her years of experience and because the team interpreter never said anything.

I believe the team interpreter had a responsibility to give feedback to her colleague and peer about what was lacking. Interpreters are responsible for communication the whole time they are on the job not just during their "shift." Once an interpreter is out in the field, there is no other monitoring system other than peers in team situations. Interpreters shouldn’t worry about angering the other interpreter, but focus on communication that the Deaf person may not be getting that could result in failing a test, not getting a promotion, or any number of other negative consequences.

Have you experienced this problem too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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About the Author

Brenda CartwrightBrenda Cartwright is a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language and interpreting textbooks from the RID Press. For the last 30 years Brenda has been the Chair of the Sign Language Interpreter Program at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan.

More about BC  |  Articles by BC

Use Sign Language to Communicate With Your Hearing Baby Before They Can Talk – An Overview of Why to Use American Sign Language (ASL)

Use Sign Language to Communicate With Your Hearing Baby Before They Can Talk – An Overview of Why to Use American Sign Language (ASL)

Learning Tips   |  Thursday, August 6, 2015

By Jillian Winn

Babies have thoughts and feelings they want to communicate with you much sooner than they develop the verbal skills to be able to express those thoughts through speech.

How Babies Communicate

Newborn waivingMy son waiving his hands at about one week old.

Babies communicate by crying differently in different circumstances, cooing and smiling in response to you, making baby-babble sounds, making facial expressions, mimicking your gestures, waiving their hands, and squeezing your fingers. There are theories and even products to help parents analyze their baby’s cries, but you don’t have to be a baby whisperer to understand what your baby is trying to communicate if you give them tools to express themselves in a way you can understand – baby sign language.

On average, babies don’t start to say words until around 1 year old. However, their cognitive skills for thinking, feeling, and recognizing action and reaction develop much earlier. They also develop hand-eye coordination at an earlier age – first they squeeze your finger and eventually they point, wave, and mimic your gestures.

Babies naturally use their hands and facial expressions to communicate. Both of my sons, like many babies, would pucker their lips into an “O,” tilt their head to the side, and punch their little fist in the air when they were hungry. They are instinctively looking for the breast or bottle, but they are also clearly communicating through their hands and facial expressions.

Because babies are able to make and mimic gestures, they are able to learn baby sign language and use it to communicate before they can talk.

Signing with Hearing Babies

Baby sign language is the use of signs to communicate with infants and toddlers. It’s not its own language. When you teach signs to a baby, often you would use American Sign Language (if you are in the United States or Canada where American Sign Language is used, otherwise you would use the sign language used in your region, such as British Sign Language or French Sign Language), but some people use other types of sign language or even use modified or made-up signs. Of course, we recommend using American Sign Language (ASL).

There are many advantages to using ASL when teaching your hearing baby to sign. It is a real language. Because it is a real language, other people are familiar with the signs, there is no need to “remember” a made-up sign, and there are resources to use to look up signs (Signing Savvy, of course!).

Knowing ASL is also fun for children when they see others using it. As the child grows up, they may meet deaf peers or other people who know ASL. Some preschools and daycares are beginning to incorporate sign language into their curriculum and it is becoming more common to see ASL in popular media, such as commercials, television shows, and movies.

Benefits of Signing

There are many benefits of being able to communicate with your baby using sign language before they can talk. Research studies have found parents who sign with their infants and toddlers reported:

  • Fewer tantrums1
  • Better social skills1
  • Less frustration (from both children and parents)1
  • Less parenting-related stress2 3
  • More affectionate interactions2 3
  • Easier time responding to upset children2 3

Research studies have found that signing activates the area of the brain that makes learning a new word easier4 5 and infants and toddlers that used signs had better language skills than children that did not use signs.6 7 They found children who used signs:

  • Had larger vocabularies and understood and used more words5
  • Used longer sentences5
  • Had a higher Verbal IQ8

Of course, the greatest immediate benefit is that your baby is able to communicate with you and you are able to understand them. 

We started signing with our first son when he was born.  MILK is the first sign he started to use and the sign that he would use most often (he still has an addiction to milk at the age of 2.5 years old!).  He would use some signs, but I remember clearly the first time he used sign to really make a strong statement. I had given him a sippy cup with water in it.  He instantly started to cry, dramatically threw the sippy cup on the ground, and forcefully raised his fist in the air and began repeatedly signing milk.  His actions, combined with his signing, made his message very clear: “Mom, this water is not going to cut it. I want milk!!”  So although he had a mini tantrum, it was short-lived because I knew he wasn’t frustrated just because he didn’t want water, but because we wanted milk – and NOW!

Although most useful for understanding our son’s desires, signing was also a great way for us to learn and practice vocabulary together and get a glimpse into his thoughts.  One example is we would use animal signs when reading books with animals and when playing with animal toys.  Because he wasn’t talking yet, it was hard to know if he was learning the animal names, but we were happily surprised when we went to the zoo and he was excitedly signing all of the animals to us as we saw each new animal.


It’s easy to start signing with your baby and it’s amazing to be able to communicate with them through sign before they are able to talk.

To get started, simply use signs when communicating with your child. There isn’t a “right” way or specific order to learning or teaching signs, just start by picking signs that make the most sense in the context of your baby’s life.


  1. Acredolo, L. & Goodwyn, S. (2002). Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
  2. Gongora, X. & Farkas C. (2009). Infant sign language program effects on synchronic mother-infant interactions. Infant Behavior & Development, 32, 216-225.
  3. Vallotton, C. (2012). Infant signs as intervention? Promoting symbolic gestures for preverbal children in low-income families supports responsive parent-child relationships. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(3), 401-415.
  4. Kelly, S., McDevitt, T., and Esch, M. (2009). Brief training with co-speech gesture lends a hand to word learning in a foreign language. Language and Cognitive Processes, 24(2), 313-334.
  5. Xu, J., Gannon, P., Emmorey, K., Smith, J., & Braun, A. (2009). Symbolic gestures and spoken language are processed by a common neural system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(49), 20664-20669.
  6. Goodwyn, S. & Acredolo L. (1993). Symbolic gesture versus word: Is there a modality advantage for onset of symbol use? Child Development, 64(3): p. 688-701.
  7. Goodwyn, S., Acredolo, L., & Brown, A. L. (2000). Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development. Journal of Verbal and Nonverbal Behavior, 24(2), 81-103.
  8. Acredolo, L. & Goodwyn, S. (2000). The long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8. International Society for Infant Studies. Brighton, U.K.


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