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Tom Babb transcends physical barriers to excel in his career and connect with others using Adobe Creative Cloud

Image of Tom Babb.

Tom Babb is known at his job for his fantastic design chops and incredible storytelling skills. As the growth marketing manager for the satellite imagery platform SkyFi, Babb spends his days handling everything from SEO strategy to community management and marketing partnerships — in addition to producing videos for social media, creating eye-catching visuals for conferences, and polishing presentations that win over customers. So, when co-workers first meet Babb in person, they’re often surprised to learn that their go-to marketer and content creator is paralyzed from the shoulders down.

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Video created by Babb for SkyFi social media using Adobe Photoshop, Premiere Pro, and Illustrator. Content source: Tom Babb.

Using assistive technology, Babb taught himself to unleash his creative spirit with Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Premiere Pro. Not only are his creative skills helping him find professional success, but they’re giving him new opportunities to express himself while supporting others living with disabilities.

Image created by Tom Babb.
Babb created this slide using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for a SkyFi investor deck based on an article he wrote that went viral. Image source: Tom Babb.

“As someone with limited dexterity, it’s easy for people without disabilities to assume my creative process is limited to what I’m physically capable of, but that’s not true at all,” says Babb. “In fact, I’ve found ways to harness my abilities — coupled with Adobe creative and assistive tech — to accomplish my goals and use my creativity in interesting ways.”

As part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, we spoke with Babb about his journey as a creator and how assistive technology and accessible tools have helped remove barriers.

Image created by Tom Babb.
Family Christmas card created by Babb with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Image source: Tom Babb.

Reconnecting through assistive technology

Babb grew up in Colorado, enjoying a typical active mountain lifestyle before heading to the University of Kansas to study international business. But during a family vacation to Maui in 2015, everything changed. While playing in the waves, Babb broke his neck, becoming paralyzed from the shoulders down. “I knew right away that my life would never be the same,” recalls Babb. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, even if I would be able to go back to college.”

Thankfully, Babb had the opportunity to rehab at the world-renowned Craig Hospital, which specializes in rehabilitation and research for people with spinal cord and brain injuries. The hospital has a state-of-the-art assistive technology lab, and technicians worked closely with Babb to show him how to leverage tools such as voice assistance and head tracking to interact with computers.

“While at Craig Hospital, Babb progressed from working on breathing, communication, swallowing, and mobility to higher level assistive technology skills that could open more doors to independence for him,” says Karen Sims Engstrom, assistive technology Lab Speech-Language Pathologist, at Craig Hospital. “Tom was very motivated to trial many different adapted mouse options and various types of speech-recognition software for independence with notetaking, emailing, and document creation. He realized early on that adaptive technology was going to be his best bet for returning to college and future employment opportunities.”

Adds Sims Engstrom, “Even in the midst of the personal challenge that is spinal cord injury, Tom has shared his experience, provided advice to others dealing with similar situations, offered support and encouragement, been an advocate for those who needed a friend, been a role model for handling challenging situations with courage and grace, and celebrated the achievements of others. Tom continues to thrive by learning and doing things in new ways to map out what he wants his future to be while making positive impacts on the world around him.”

Babb returned to school, graduating in 2019 with a degree in strategic communications.

“I knew I liked storytelling,” says Babb. “I like talking to people and working with them. My courses taught me to communicate ideas visually using basic creative apps, but they were limited. I had all these ideas in my head for what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t quite create exactly what I was imagining.”

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Finding creativity with Adobe

While Babb was introduced to Adobe Creative Cloud apps during college, he says that they seemed too complex at first. That changed during COVID-19 lockdowns a year after his graduation. Isolated at home with more time on his hands, Babb decided to dig into learning how to use Adobe apps. With the help of YouTube tutorials, he taught himself to do tasks in Adobe Illustrator, such as tracing pictures of existing objects.

Image created by Tom Babb.
An image of Babb’s best friend that he traced from a photo and printed to give as a gift. Completing it was a pivotal moment in Babb’s creative journey and the piece now lives on his friend’s wall. Image source: Tom Babb.

“It was taking me forever at first to make very simple things. But once I got the hang of it, I started progressing really quickly,” says Babb. “I moved to Photoshop and then Premiere Pro. People around me are amazed that I can do everything by moving my head, but it’s really not that hard. I think anyone can do it. You just need to learn the tools one step at a time and have patience.”

As someone who isn’t working with a typical mouse, Babb likes working with tools such as the curvature tool in Illustrator, as it allows him to easily create shapes by setting points instead of trying to drag a cursor. Keyframes in Premiere Pro is another favorite capability for similar reasons, as he can set start and end points for effects without fiddling with sliders.

“My favorite tool is masking since you can use it to create really interesting visual effects,” says Babb. “I’ll often bring images from Photoshop into Illustrator and do my masking there since it’s easier for me to work with vectors. But what’s great about working with Creative Cloud is that it’s super easy to move projects between apps.”

Image created by Tom Babb.

Inspiring the community

When it comes to accessibility, even little things like being able to change shortcuts can make a big difference to Babb’s workflow. “Working with voice commands, it can sometimes get complicated if I’m trying to activate shortcuts with a lot of different button presses, like shift-control-alt,” explains Babb. “The ability to change the shortcuts and put my favorite actions on shortcuts that are easier to say, those are big for me.”

Babb has also found Microsoft to be progressive with its assistive tech. The company owns Dragon Natural Speaking, a speech to text tool that Babb uses.

And Babb thinks that generative AI with Adobe Firefly has great potential to help him expand his creativity. “I use generative AI for inspiration,” says Babb. “If we’re doing an event in Texas, for instance, I can start describing some ideas like space and ranches and cowboys. I wouldn’t just use whatever it suggests, but being able to visualize concepts helps me piece together my ideas for the final image.”

Babb also uses his creative expertise for causes beyond work: to inspire, uplift, and engage with people with disabilities. He is in the process of establishing a non-profit organization called The Mended that will aim to bring the potential of the internet and technology to people after a traumatic event.

Image created by Tom Babb.

“I wasn’t always involved in the community of people with disabilities. But during the pandemic, a friend and I started a group to help connect people who were feeling very isolated and depressed,” says Babb. “I didn’t feel impacted in the same way, and I realized that it was the development of my creative skills that had enabled me to have an outlet to express myself and achieve happiness. Using my computer and Adobe apps, I’m able to communicate, create, and contribute with others, helping me find more value and purpose. I want to be a part of helping others find that purpose, find their value, and find happiness while living with their disability.”

Tom is a strong believer in the power of community and collective knowledge and invites others to be a part of that by connecting with him via his website.

Learn more about what Adobe is doing to make Adobe for All through the Adobe Accessibility Principles.

Tags: Adobe Illustrator

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